my employee is overly budget-conscious and freaks out when we spend money

A reader writes:

I have a low-level employee who has always volunteered in nonprofits and worked in academia, and I’d love some tips on helping him change his budget awareness. He is very used to saving every penny of the organization’s money, at the expense of significant amounts of time, which makes sense if the money is scarce and the time is volunteered, but makes absolutely no sense if the money is adequate and the time is paid for.

I’ve explained sticker price vs time costs (multiple times, in multiple ways with multiple examples), and yet any amount of money over about $50 basically sends him into an anxiety spiral where nothing I say makes an impact. I’m willing to shut it down the next time he opens this discussion, since it’s been explained from every angle and isn’t making a difference, but I do need him to be capable of watching the company spend money on (for example) office supplies, IT infrastructure, furniture, advertising, etc. without getting somewhat panicked and suggesting high-effort, high-salary-cost ways of saving minor amounts of money. (For what it’s worth: he doesn’t come from a poor family, so the money anxiety seems to be entirely work-related. He also talks about having anxiety but refuses to seek treatment.)

Is there a framing for this that might sink in, given the work background? I’d rather encourage understanding than just shut it down, but at this point I’ve done what I can think of and I’ll shut it down and lock it up if I have to.

I wrote back and asked, “When you talked to him about it, did you explicitly tell him he needs to stop, or was it more trying to explain why it’s unnecessary? And how directly involved with money/purchasing is his job?” The reply:

About 15% of his job involves either researching options/solutions to issues we are having (for example: find me an email system that can do the following four things, or find me companies that sell this specific thing and book me demos), or interfacing with external suppliers (and therefore seeing the invoices go by). The rest of his job is not directly related to money at all.

I have discussed with him both why specific expenses are necessary AND that this pattern is untenable, which he agrees on when it’s not actively something he’s preoccupied about. But then as soon as something new pops up, he says he’s anxious for a specific new reason, and the spiral starts again.

He agrees when I say something like, “The company finances are being handled. Spending more time to save money is not efficient or lucrative, and company expenses are both planned and approved, and I need you to understand that and manage your feeling about the expenses. I can’t have this discussion every time we buy something. It’s a problem.”

But the second something pops up, he genuinely thinks we don’t understand that there are cheaper options, and even when pointed to the original discussion, doesn’t relate it to his behavior — he basically flips it from “I’m doing The Thing About Money” to “my boss is not listening to me and is going to drive the company into the ground, ANXIETY!” — and and I’m like … dude. It’s a replacement office chair. It’s a MID-RANGE OFFICE CHAIR, not even a fancy one! — complete disconnect, even when pointed out.

And then thing is that when he’s not actively anxious, he’s good at his job. But the spirals are killing it.

At this point, barring moving him to a role where there is no knowledge of finance involved at all, I’m at my wits end.

Well, you’ve done the right thing: You’ve told him this is a pattern, it’s untenable, and it needs to stop. Often in these situations, when I ask a manager how direct they’ve been about a problem, it turns out they haven’t been that direct. They’ve said “you really don’t need to do X” or “it would be great if you could try doing Y,” but they haven’t directly said “X is a serious problem and I need you to stop doing X.” But you’ve said that, so we can check that off the list.

Since you’ve done that and it’s still happening, it’s time to talk with him again and this time escalate the seriousness. Your message this time should be: “We’ve talked about this previously, but it’s still happening. It’s disruptive and it’s getting in the way of you being able to perform your job effectively. It’s become a serious issue, to the point that I’m having to think about whether we can keep you in this role or not. So I want to make sure you’re absolutely clear about the behaviors that cannot continue. You cannot (fill in specific behaviors here). Can you agree to that going forward?”

You might also say, “You’ve mentioned that you struggle with anxiety. If you need time off for appointments for treatment, I can work with you to ensure you get that time.” If your company has an EAP, mention it here. (Also, because he’s mentioned anxiety, it’s possible that the Americans with Disabilities Act could be in play, so you should talk with your HR people before you have this conversation to make sure you’re navigating this legally.)

But from there … if he has untreated, clinical anxiety, there probably isn’t any framing you can find that will solve this, because anxiety isn’t rational. So yes, it’s very reasonable to focus on shutting it down rather than trying to reason or cajole him into seeing things differently. So that might mean saying things like:

* “As we’ve talked about, this isn’t up for discussion. The company is going to purchase X and isn’t going to do Y to spend less. We need to move on now.”

* “Please order the chair I’ve marked. We’re not going to discuss lower-cost options.”

* “As you know, I’m not going to discuss this again. Is there anything else you need from me?”

… and so forth.

These sorts of comments would normally feel overly brusque, but in a situation like this one — where the problem has been discussed and it’s not improving — that’s okay. You could certainly give him a warning that you’re going to be doing that (“Since this is continuing to be disruptive, I want you to know that I’m going to have to shut it down when it happens and will need you to move on when I do”). But you’re on solid ground in simply shutting it down.

If that doesn’t mostly solve it, at that point you’d need to think about whether he can succeed in the job as it’s currently configured and, if not, whether there are ways to restructure his role without significant inconvenience to you or others. (If the ADA is in play, you’d need to look at whether he can do the “essential functions” of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. You’d want HR involved for that.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 499 comments… read them below }

  1. Lady Jay*

    Good lord, as someone who works in higher ed, I don’t get this dude’s response. While I’m proud of being sensible about my budget, if I were in a place where I didn’t have to worry so much, I’d be thrilled.

    1. MissBliss*

      I just moved into higher ed from a mid-sized community nonprofit (before that I was at a small community non-profit) and, as the kids used to say, the struggle is real. I have to actually catch myself and say “we can afford to do this here.”

      1. SunnyD*

        I’m guessing he either got this messaging in an abusive work situation (which would explain the utter panic – many of us need lots of time to process abuse), OR he has a medical condition like Alison said that actively blocks his ability to be rational about anxiety triggers (and may be dealing with things outside work that have degraded his resilience).

        It doesn’t change that this is a problem that he is responsible for working hard to fix, the same way am employee with a broken foot (and insurance) is responsible for going to the doctor and getting a cast so that they’ll heal and be ready to work again. If the employee takes active steps to try to manage the anxiety, great, that’s likely workable – if not, they’re basically offloading their problem to others and also not doing the job. Good luck OP, striking that compassion – business balance.

    2. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I came here to say the same. I’m in academia where you have to defend a teeny hotel room filled with three people or a meal over €10. Man I can’t wait to work for someone who doesn’t mind spending reasonably.

    3. Mary*

      Right??! I went from higher education (one laser pointer/clicker between 20) to private sector mentality and ordered all my new stationery on the second day. I did NOT have a problem with that.

      (Cannot bear unnecessary colour printing though.)

      1. Mary*

        LW, thinking of which, does your org have a “spend it or lose it” mentality? In orgs where there is a resource shortage, there’s often a (paradoxical) incentive to spend your max budget because if you have 10k in 2016/17 and only spend 6k, you’re only getting 6k in 2017/18. Do you think it would help your employee if you framed it not just as “it’s better value to spend X because time also costs money” but “we actively need this budget to be spent”?

        1. AKchic*

          Ooh! That is also a good point, and many non-profits have to work within that mindset as well.

        2. OP*

          No – we’re a relatively small (well, 20-ish people) private company.

          Also, for the record, we’re not American, so the ADA doesn’t apply, but more stringent regulations DO, so same principles/concerns.

          I’ve already pointed this employee to the insurance resources, made sure that he knows that time off work is approved if needed, etc. He specifically said that he didn’t want to consult ‘now’, and I kind of feel like it isn’t my job to push him on how he handles his mental health (even if, omg, it looks EXHAUSTING – and I say this as someone who has gone to therapy for my own anxiety issues.)

          1. Mara*

            I would hope that hearing some component of the script Alison suggested about how serious of an issue this has become as it is jeopardizing his performance would incentivize him to reconsider if now is the right time for therapy… (Said as a fellow anxiety sufferer who waited about 2 years to long to find a therapist).

          2. ursula*

            I wonder if it would help to give a clear script of exactly how you want him to communicate with you about options? Like, “If you want to raise an alternative to something I plan to purchase, I value your research so you are welcome to suggest it once (and only once). But after that, I need you to understand that I am aware of the options and my decision is final.”

            I only mean, I wonder if he now feels unsure of how to present you with options when researching those options is a meaningful part of his job. Maybe giving him a container for how you would like that info delivered (with boundaries) would be helpful?

            1. Lynn Marie*

              Yes. Give him a framework/flowchart for researching options and making decisions? Easy with something concrete like chairs, find me good, better, best, but can work with more complex research/decisions. And do give him a budget range. Oddly, many execs don’t think to do this when assigning these tasks. Researching venues for company retreats and dinners always gave me extreme anxiety as a new employee because I had no idea if the sky was the limit or what the constraints were before I plunged in and set up the spreadsheet options. Do we have a BBQ in the public park or do I rent a yacht? Once you have a feel for what’s required, it’s a lot easier.

                1. valentine*

                  He’s pushing back when told to order a specific item. Hearing him out more or asking for more details OP doesn’t want isn’t going to work when he feels like death about amounts over $50 and is moving the goalposts:
                  as soon as something new pops up, he says he’s anxious for a specific new reason, and the spiral starts again.

                  I don’t know that OP has been direct or that this guy is on the same page, though.
                  this pattern is untenable, which he agrees on when it’s not actively something he’s preoccupied about. […] He agrees when I say something like, “[…]I need you to understand that and manage your feeling about the expenses. I can’t have this discussion every time we buy something. It’s a problem.”
                  This isn’t the same as, “You need to spend money as directed and see money spent (invoices) and not share how you feel about it.”

              1. LJay*

                This. One of the things that drove me nuts at first at my job was that I had no idea what they expected anything to cost or what anything really should cost.

                So I likely spent more time than I needed to getting various quotes and gathering information because I wanted to provide a wide range of options to fit any budget, or if there weren’t options and it was just a lot more expensive than I was comfortable with to have an iron-clad example of “look I checked with 20 places and they all cost this much so it’s going to cost this much”.

                If I had known, “We expect to spend around $10k on this,” then I could have eliminated a lot of time spent getting quotes in the $2k range that didn’t do a lot of what we wanted but did some of it, and a lot of time getting quotes in the $10k range to be really sure the $10k range was appropriate, and just gone for the best offering in the $10k range.

          3. Kelly AF*

            It’s like I say to my kids: you feel how you feel, and that’s fine. What you need to manage are your actions.

            He can FEEL anxious – that’s 100% out of your control, and really, not your business. He can’t ACT on it in the way he has been, though.

          4. SunnyD*

            Even if you were dealing with the ADA (which you’re not, but I don’t knew what regs you do have to comply with so I’ll stick with ADA), even then accommodations have to be “reasonable”. A medical condition that prevents you from doing your job isn’t reasonable. It’s not retaliation or discrimination to reject unreasonable disability accommodations.

            /Not an employment lawyer, but disabled and have official ADA accommodation.

    4. ket*

      I on the other hand am in higher ed right now and *totally* understand. We get the cheapest pizza with the fewest toppings, we use furniture from the trash, we buy the cheapest tea bags. When I went on a trip for work the per diem was prorated so we only got half the per diem for one day because we landed after noon. Every expenditure is a struggle. “Are you sure? are you sure we need that? could we do it cheaper? could we buy the version that might break after 10 uses since you project you’ll only use it 8 times this year?” And the emotional intensity is high. It’s one reason I’m looking for a new job — the nickeling and dime-ing and the yelling and the emails and the difficulty in getting any raise even if your workload doubles is just exhausting.

      1. ket*

        Adding as I may have misread your initial comment. Yes, if I was in his spot I’d be thrilled :)

        But on the other hand if this guy spent a lot of time with someone like an admin I have in mind, it’s no wonder he’s having panic attacks every time! Like I said, the emotional intensity is high!

      2. College Career Counselor*

        I know that higher ed budget struggle as well. At a previous employer, the staff were all sitting around on sprung chairs at least (I am not making this up) 60 years old because of financial anxiety about replacing them. The president of the college came to a meeting and plopped into a sprung chair, then promptly asked if they were all like this. Yep, sure are. She told them to order new chairs.

        At the same employer, the office manager came to me and said that the water cooler invoice was off by 50 cents (which offended her, due to a stringent background in accounting). I asked her how much time she had spent on trying to reconcile the invoice (over an hour), and then gently suggested that since she made way more than that, that it was okay to let this go and just pay it. She balked, so I insisted and said I’d take the hit if we got audited.

        1. Anax*

          Oh god, the CHAIRS.

          My first summer job in college, I worked in an underfunded government department, and I was stuck on a broken chair which constantly sank to its minimum height.

          There was a continual atmosphere of desperation in that office, and I think part was that we were just so darn uncomfortable and achy all the time – and constantly reminded that we didn’t matter to the Powers That Be.

        2. Yorick*

          In my former job we had this terrible mashup of broken tables as our conference room table. The dean denied our request to buy a new conference table. Then she came for a meeting, saw our pitiful conference room, and said she’d approve it. Why not come see the current table before denying the request? Ugh.

          She also denied the request for 2 SAS licenses (which are cheap) because there was a student demo that you could access for free through VPN. Well, our old crappy computers won’t really run that, and demos usually don’t let you have full access to all features. Ugh.

          1. detaill--orieted*

            Too true about higher ed. But SAS being cheap depends on the scale for cheap. Plus there’s all the added legal costs, since using SAS makes me want to kill people.

            1. Violet Fox*

              For scientific software, that can be cheap. In general, large scale software licensees can be eye-waveringly, mindnumblying expensive, especially if you are dealing with anything that might possibly involve proprietary data being stored elsewhere, and also lawyers.

              1. Violet Fox*

                Should also add, that at least where I work, we aren’t allowed to buy it on grant money because we are going to be expected to have the software available longer term, and because once things get integrated into people’s workflows, especially for research it is pretty much impossible to get rid of. It isn’t just the cost of the software now, but the 10+year cost of having it around.

            2. Jenny Next*

              Large academic institutions often have a site license. At my former employer, SAS was typically under $100/yr for each computer. But if I had to get it as an individual, it would be something like $11,000 for the first year and a little less thereafter.

          2. Gaia*

            At old government job I literally had a plastic card table as a conference table. We used software that cost roughly $600/month for two of us…but we couldn’t swing for a better conference table….

        3. VictorianCowgirl*

          Oh, I so feel her being offended by $0.50, that is so funny. “Your time is worth more than the discrepancy you’re solving” is a really hard lesson to learn! That’s why I love non-profit accounting. One gets to be very diligent.

          1. nonoseweasly*

            I work at a non-profit and we can make $0.50 go a long way!

            A team here recently decided to stop doing a specific stakeholder activity to save the company money. Because they are not doing it, every other team has to pick up their little bit of the activity instead. Therefore we are doing less of other things because we are doing this, and the business is STILL doing the activity that they have decided isn’t worth doing. Work is dumb sometimes.

        4. SeluciaMD*

          I love, love, love this and am constantly pushing for this to be the way certain financial discrepancies are handled in my office. Unfortunately, we’re part of local government and there are SO MANY HOOPS you have to jump through for this kind of stuff. For example, I needed to buy stuff for a big event so I went to BJ’s to purchase because I’ve got a personal membership there. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until I was ready to check out that they wouldn’t let me use our tax-exempt status with my personal account – we’d need to sign up for a business membership. The tax I paid was like $2.30 vs the annual membership fee of like $55. So to me this was a no brainer! The items were cheaper overall because we bought in bulk and resolving the $2.30 was going to cost staff time plus the $55. So clearly it makes more sense to just write off the $2.30, right?

          In the end, I gave the finance department $2.30 of my own money because I was tired of fighting about it and my personal time (not to mention my work time that they pay for!) and sanity were worth that $2. Sometimes there is just no common sense to be found in these scenarios. I salute you for recognizing that, in the end, the cheapest way to pay for that mistake was with 50 cents in cash.

        5. Gumby*

          I once spent more than an hour tracking down a 4 cent difference for one of our government contracts. At one point I was so frustrated I asked our director of contracts if I could just mail [funding org] the 4 pennies (and actually, it was an error in their favor so that would have made everything off by 8 cents!!!) but he was pretty adamant that those 4 cents were an unacceptable variance. Ugh. Though my everyday life is not as constrained. I’m fairly certain the chair I am sitting on was purchased in this decade.

      3. Autumnheart*

        After reading about so many people’s experiences, I have to say I’d love a thread where people report the most cheap-ass thing they’ve seen an employer do.

        I once worked for a major nationwide bank that did not provide its corporate employees with office supplies. If you wanted pens or Post-its, you had to bring your own.

        1. Katefish*

          I had a boss who hated paying FedEx charges of any kind. We were a law firm, and one of the states in which I practice requires overnight mail for proper service of routine documents. That was a constant fight…

        2. LJay*

          Ugh. After leaving a previous job I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t work anywhere where I was expected/forced by crappy purchasing requirements to bring my own pens anymore.

          It’s just so demoralizing when you aren’t even provided the most basic thing you need to do your job.

          1. Jayn*

            There used to be an insurance company next to my parents’ business that apparently only supplied cheap pens, so they’d occasionally come over and raid the complimentary pens my parents gave out because they were better.

        3. Anax*

          We had a year-long fight between the building owners (a government agency) and my workplace (a separate government agency).

          The building next door was renovating, and they were regularly operating heavy machinery right beneath our air intake. The fumes were noxious; the entire office had frequent migraines and ended up out sick.

          Our director was one of the most affected, so he kept asking the building owners to do something – but it didn’t QUITE legally require action, according to half a dozen inspections and air quality monitors. The building owners kept sending in inspectors, our director kept arguing that this was a clear health hazard, and eventually, rather than ask the neighbors to do construction outside normal business hours, setting up better building air filters, clearing everyone to work from home, or setting up an alternate office for the interim…

          They put up a snorkel. They literally put a big plastic snorkel on the building, so air intake came from higher up.

          It didn’t work, either.

        4. SunnyD*

          A multi-billion mega corp where the CEO would call his executives to account, to him personally, for each and every overnight mailing from their department.

          The amount of very expensive person-hours ($250/hour and up) to account for a few bucks of freaking postage was boggling.

          Especially since the company could have used some executive attention on, oh, big picture strategy and how to build profit.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Many years ago, my state had year after year of budgets not going through the legislature on time.
          The state university had to freeze its spending — no office supplies would be reordered until the state had a budget. Some bright soul thought that included toilet paper. You can imagine that the decision was reversed shortly after local DJs heard about it.

        6. Seattle Veggie*

          My (former) employer, who worked out of her home office, rented a small office suite for us employees – a few rooms, with a bathroom included. There was also a more general-use bathroom outside the suite, up a flight of stairs – meant for those in the building who rented smaller offices with no bathroom, but open to us as well. My (former) employer decided that she wasn’t going to pay for toilet paper for the bathroom in our office, because the building supplied paper to the general-use bathroom. She told us that if we wanted toilet paper in our bathroom, we could steal it from the general-use bathroom or buy it ourselves.

      4. FCJ*

        It’s funny, because I work at a small graduate school with perennial and lately major budget problems, and our CFO always puts the kibosh on that kind of nickel and diming. The big budget issues are payroll/benefits and physical plant. A few hundred dollars, even a couple thousand, isn’t even a blip on his radar. I once asked my boss for permission to spend $400 on archival supplies while the CFO was in the room, and they both thought it was quaint that I was concerned. Making a big deal about normal expenditures for office supplies, travel costs, etc., is the kind of thing that non-accountant administrators at my institution often want to do to feel like they’re taking the budget seriously, but it’s hugely damaging to morale relative to its actual financial benefits.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is so difficult, because I’m super sympathetic to OP and her report. For OP, this sounds absolutely exhausting, and it sounds like they’ve done everything right. And it sounds like OP’s employee understands what he’s doing is problematic until his anxiety spiral begins (which must be exhausting for him, as well). It sounds like his prior jobs have hardwired him to freak out about expenses, which has to be an awful experience for him, now.

      I agree with Alison that the only real option is to refer him to resources, or to consider removing the 15% of his job that relates to purchasing. I’d also stop reasoning with him when he’s in an anxiety spiral, at this point. I would just say, “This is what we’ve talked about” and then tell him it’s no longer up for discussion. I’m worried that OP may be inadvertently feeding his anxiety by trying to reason with him.

      If he’s freaking out over purchases that never fall within his purview (which sounds like it may be the case), then it sounds like this may be moving towards progressive discipline and a PIP. But this is a really sucky situation, and I feel for all the parties involved.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yes, it’s hard when you’ve done everything right to no effect. What’s still more frustrating is that the employee apparently is rational enough to see, when he’s not in the middle of an anxiety spiral, that his behavior doesn’t make sense.

        In OP’s place, I think I’d have a long talk with HR about what options she can legitimately pursue. I’d also remove as much purchasing responsibility as possible from the employee’s job description — or at least, eliminate any possible circumstances in which the employee had to make the actual purchase decision.

    6. Kate R*

      I moved from higher ed to industry, and I do get where he’s coming from. I worked with two professors who had different levels of funding, so their levels of stinginess varied, and I can see how that can warp your view of how money should be spent. I still have moments thinking I don’t want to waste money on something, and it’ll be like $40, which is nothing to them. But I also think making that adjustment is just part of adjusting to corporate culture. I have to dress a lot more professionally now than I did in academia, but I would never think to say, “Meh, I don’t really get that, so I’m going to still wear jeans.” What’s most interesting to me about this is that I feel like these warped traits we take from one job to another tend to be rooted in a fear of getting in trouble. And if my boss had to talk to me repeatedly about anything like OP is doing with her employee about this, I’d be freaking out about being in trouble. So, I feel for the guy, but I don’t understand how/if he doesn’t see how serious this problem is for the future of his role at this job. It sounds like OP has been pretty clear with him.

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Yeah, I remember in a long-term office temp job for a bank I mentioned to the secretary in charge of that area that I’d like to borrow a document sorter if the office had them, since I’d used one before and they make alphabetizing large piles of papers easier. She just ordered me My Very Own Document Sorter out of the office supply catalog that day, to be delivered the very next day, because they’re paying me by the hour and those things just aren’t very expensive so it’s cheaper to buy it rather than pay me to spend more hours alphabetizing more slowly as long as I already know how to use one.

        After spending years volunteering in school libraries growing up, this was a revelation. I was used to the “most of this side of this piece of printer paper wasn’t used since there was only the one paragraph at the top, so I should keep it to scribble notes on” level of cost saving, and the bank had a large enough office supply budget that a temp wanting something could just…have it? Because they couldn’t think of any reason for me not to have it and it would make me faster at my job? (I’m sure it helped that I was asking for a tool that would be really hard to use to goof off with rather than for work, and a request for 100 different colors of gel pens would not have gone over as well.)

      2. Kat in VA*

        I’m in the same boat. I have four execs – the two I have the most contact are Sales and Engineering.

        The Sales guy thinks nothing of dropping $2000 a day on catering for breakfast and lunch for training (not to mention the attendant hotel and flight costs), where the Engineering guy is penny pinching every aspect of his management offsite.

        Going from lavish excess to watch every dollar is a headsnapping transition. I ask what the budget is for each and go from there.

        This guy…I mean, once the BOSS tells you “Yes, buy it” then you buy it and there shouldn’t be any more pushback. Conceivably the boss has a better idea of budget than you do (I can think of a few cases where that’s not true but overall it applies). Having to repeatedly talk to him about it is problematic but I honestly can’t think of a solution. To me, the boss saying “Dew eet” is all the permission I need to unlimber the corporate card (assuming of course that I’ve done my research and presented a few options).

  2. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP, if it feels unkind to say these things, that’s because you’re fundamentally not a horrible person. A matter of fact tone of voice and then moving on is not rude, and whatever struggles he has are his responsibility. Time is money. He’s latched onto time as the preferred currency for whatever reasons, but he needs to figure out how to re-calibrate.

    1. GyreFalcon*

      OP, It might also help him take the time is money into account if you can assign an actual dollar value to the time, like the company’s time is worth $500/hr, so if cheaper solution X takes 3 extra hours, add $1500 to the cost, and maybe it’s suddenly not cheaper than mid-range solution Y.

      1. JessaB*

        This is a good idea. People who do not do cost accounting do not usually remember to factor in things like salary cost, equipment cost, etc. All the little extras that really do make a difference to the calculus.

      2. Adereterial*

        I was also going to suggest this – time ‘looks and feels’ free to many when it’s not. So assign it a value. Make sure he knows them – and factors them in when making cost reduction suggestions that involve extra time to implement. Make sure he knows his own time cost too.

      3. Antilles*

        Yeah, that’s the framing that was used to explain to me when I was first starting out.
        We bill our time at $70/hour. If you’re saving $20 but it adds 30 minutes to the job (e.g., taking a bus instead of a taxi), you’re actually losing the client money.

      4. SurprisedCanuk*

        I think the OP already tried this. The problem is the person is not being rational. It is like people who lived through the great depression being insanely stingy for the rest of their lives.

        1. valentine*

          Yes. Even if his family isn’t poor, they probably instilled a warped relationship with money.

      5. Mrs. H. Kenway*

        I had the same thought. Perhaps if it’s explained to Joe that the company brings in $2M a day, or spends $20k per hour just to stay open ad that’s okay because it makes $35k per hour, he’ll be better able to put that $200 chair into perspective or understand that it’s not going to break the bank to go for the pricier email service.

      6. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That is brilliant. I hope OP sees this. Any nervous/novice price-quoters could be instructed to use a format calling out “item cost” , “hours required”, and total of hoursXmanpower cost until they get accustomed to this particular employer’s practices of spending money to make money.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Dear god, this.

      My department moved into a new facility after a natural disaster. Because there was a time and budget crunch, the move was done with volunteer labor. Y’all, it took us FIFTEEN YEARS to find all of our stuff again. We’re grateful that the volunteers were available but they didn’t understand the organizational system (which is not actually complex, but . . . time crunch and all) and nothing got put where it should have been.

      We thought we were going to have to move again two years ago and our executive director was adamant that we were going to spend the money to hire a company with experience moving archives, because the former situation was bonkers crazy and a terrible use of our time and energy.

      1. Samantha*

        Volunteers moving archives makes me anxious just thinking about it! And I work in a relatively small archive, can’t even imagine the chaos.

      2. EarthquakesAnonymous*

        If it ever comes up again, here’s another bit of anec-data to share with your director:
        It took less time to re-shelve and correctly sort a library’s worth of knee-deep books after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake than it did for my current company to recover from a month of misfiling by a clerk who was already on a PIP. (At the time filing having her file the master copies seemed like the lowest impact way to keep her occupied…little did we know. Nothing is as badly lost as a misfiled piece of paper.)

    2. Jennifer*

      Yup. If it’s just going to break in a year and you have to buy another one. Not worth it.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        It’s worth it if the places you work aren’t careful with stuff. If it’s going to get damaged, misplaced, or stolen within the year, it’s more cost effective to buy a cheap one so the replacement cost is lower when it inevitably disappears.

        1. Naomi*

          Maybe so, but there’s probably still a minimum bar of quality you need. I remember when a student group I belonged to was ordering new pens. It made sense to get cheap pens because people were always walking off with them, but the pens we had were SO cheap that you couldn’t reliably write with them. I pointed out that having pens that didn’t work was not an improvement over having no pens, and we should spring for the functional pens even if we’d lose more of them.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            AMEN. I have started carrying my own pen at all times because I’m sick of stores wanting me to sign a credit card slip with a pen that won’t write on receipts. (Come to think of it…I avoid those stores now too.)

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Bingo and if it’s something that is going to be used heavily, you want it to be excellent quality.

      I don’t want to sit my staff in flimsy folding chairs even though they’re “cheapest”.

      1. SusanIvanova*

        There are some *seriously* expensive comfy seating chairs around my office. No, even more expensive than you’re thinking. But the thought process behind it was “we were in our old building for almost 30 years. If we last that long here, these chairs will still be comfy.”

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          The thing with office furniture goes even deeper than the “value” for it’s lifespan in reality.

          Comfortable chairs are important for work product, you have cruddy conditions for your staff, you get the kind of work that you turn out from being uncomfortable and even sick [since if it’s not good support, you kill people faster, no joke!]

          So I’m glad that they really invested in the comfort.

          This is also why I buy the pens that are higher quality as well. I can get away with generic post-its just fine, they stick just fine btw. But BIC pens snap in my giant-lady-paws and also they can be hard to write with and cause you to use more pressure, creating wrist issues, yadda yadda. I still seal my envelopes with glue sticks because ew-licking but double-ew at having that wasteful strip that you have to peal off a self-stick envelope.

          1. Mongrel*

            “Comfortable chairs are important for work product, you have cruddy conditions for your staff, you get the kind of work that you turn out from being uncomfortable and even sick”

            The one that I always rail against is keyboards & mice. If you’re in front of your computer all day with shoddy interfaces devices you stand a good chance of wrecking your hands\wrists\forearms.
            I’m a gamer at home so I normally recycle my gaming stuff as work gear when I upgrade as we’re supplied with the cheapest, nastiest devices that come with the machines.
            For mice try going to a large computer store, they’ll often have samples on display, as you can see how comfy they are in your hand. Get a decent mouse mat, the cheap foam ones are a hangover from the ball mice, personally I like a rigid mat.

            For a keyboard the switches, the piece that registers you pressing the key, are 85% of the feel of it. Cheap ones tend to be mushy and can fatigue your hands\fingers as you have to press harder to make sure the key press registers, more expensive keys use a mechanical switch, which is a lot more consistent (dependent on manufacturer, there are some cheaper ones out there since the Cherry patent expired) and can be tailored for noise and pressure.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Not to mention how hard you press a keyboard when the software hangs if the keys don’t click to let you know you’ve successfully pushed it once already.

              1. Mongrel*

                Yeah, once you spend a certqain amount of money (for the most part) and go to a decent manufacturer it’s mostly personal preference. The ones at work felt like they had gummi-bears for switches, flat key caps and you could flex the chassis to an alarming degree…

    4. AMT*

      Reminds me of Vimes’ “Boots” theory from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld:

      “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

      “Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

      “But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

      “This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        EXACTLY what I was thinking of.

        I use this quotation so much. Clearer than any other explanation about value I have come across.

      2. OP*


        We’re both fantasy lit nerds, and I thought it might ring a bell. Turns out: it did. Until the next time.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Print it out – Put it on his desk. Next time he freaks out point to it and say “Vimes says no”.

          Also – You are awesome.

        2. boo bot*

          I posted too soon and didn’t see this! OP, can you force him to put the Vimes boots theory into action somehow? Like, before he comes to you to argue for something cheaper, actually do some quick research:

          How long will the cheap one last? How long will a more expensive one last? How often will someone use this? How much inconvenience or discomfort will it cause to use a lower quality version? Where’s my cow?

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          Immediately thought of this – was so thrilled to see so many people also went there. It is good to be among your own sometimes.

      3. boo bot*

        I came here to bring up the Vimes “Boots” Theory. I actually think it would be valuable for the OP to explain exactly this (possibly with exactly this passage).

        It’s something that isn’t necessarily intuitive, especially for someone with his particular history of growing up without economic anxiety, then experiencing it at his first job – he hasn’t had time to work out the Boots Theory for himself.

      4. T. Boone Pickens*

        As someone who routinely spends what my friend said is, “An uncomfortable amount of money” on shoes (John Lobb baby!) I wholeheartedly echo Vimes’ (and OP’s) advice.

        1. valentine*

          An uncomfortable amount of money
          No, because their comfort with your spending doesn’t matter.

      5. whingedrinking*

        I have argued with various people about the value of getting good kitchen stuff, especially knives and cookware. I’m not saying everyone needs to spend $200 on a knife, but I will say that no one I know who has done that has ever regretted it. A friend of mine argued back that even if he bought one $20 knife every three years, it’d take thirty years to get to the point where he’d spent the same amount, and that was enough time that who cared anyway. To which I fired back, “And it’s thirty years that you’ve spent cooking with sh*tty knives instead of a good one!”

        1. Mrs. H. Kenway*

          My Wusthof was & is worth every penny, as is my Le Creuset cookware–which will one day belong to my daughters, & hopefully one day to their children, and so on.

          It’s taken me twenty years to build up a collection, buying on sale or when bonuses come in, but I only have to buy it when I *want* a new piece now; I have all I *need.*

          1. whingedrinking*

            My parents bought me four kitchen knives when I graduated from university, on my request, and that is absolutely the best gift I’ve ever gotten.

      6. Parenthetically*

        I use this image CONSTANTLY, especially when I was teaching in a private school with loads of rich kids. We talked about how easy it was for many of their families to spend money on reliable new cars with warranties or well-made shoes that could be passed down to siblings, but how those things were simply not accessible to lower-income families. It was eye-opening to many many of my students who spend their lives insulated by their parents’ wealth.

    5. many bells down*

      Oh man this is something I struggle with so hard in my personal life. I feel obligated to buy the cheapest, plainest, “most sensible” option instead of the slightly nicer but maybe frivolous thing I want.

      Not at work, though. I’m never in charge of the budget so I just accept that the money is there and buy what I’m told. Not having to make the decisions helps.

      1. TootsNYC*

        There’s also the lost opportunity.

        People used to ask me for advice about sewing machines. I always said, “buy two steps up from what you think you can afford. Because if you don’t have that fancy stitch, you can’t use it. And the opportunity to topstitch little ducks in a row might just be the motivation that gets you to sit down and make a top for your little nephew.”

        or a P-touch labeler–I cheaped out and got one font, one line.
        But I ended up upgrading because I had places where being able to have a serif font, or to print on two lines, was really powerful.

        1. merula*

          OR, you might end up like my mother, who never used the duck stitch but when a power surge fried her original sewing machine, she HAD TO get one that had the exact stitches she used to have, JUST IN CASE, so she ended up spending 4x as much as a straight replacement would’ve been.

      2. JustaTech*

        My family jokes that cheapness can be congenital. My grandfather was famously thrifty (9 kids will do that), and it has leaked down to the third generation. I’ve never had to wonder where my next meal was coming from, or if I could go to college, and yet I can be unbearably cheap for no reason.

        I never learned any really bad habits in my academic lab, but the other day my coworker (who’s never worked academia) wrote directly on a re-usable box, rather than using a removable label and I saw RED for the wastefulness.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Our labels aren’t reusable but we just put new ones over the old ones. If the box is plastic, will rubbing alcohol take off the writing? There’s almost always a way around this . . .

          . . . says the employee of the underfunded nonprofit.

          1. Koala dreams*

            You can do what I did with my moving boxes at home before: you cross out the previous label and write the new one below it.

            At work we do reuse some boxes but mostly we buy new ones. It’s not worth the space to keep the old boxes until next year.

          2. JustaTech*

            I was a cardboard freezer box, which was why I was mad. I had a very un-liked coworker come from another site and write all over one of our plastic tube racks with an indelible pen, including his name. I soaked that box in pure ethanol trying to get his name off. (It helped some.)

            At least I never worked with people who re-used gloves. Gag.

        2. Alli525*

          My family makes the same jokes – we’re Dutch, and apparently the Dutch (or at least Dutch-Americans) are known for being cheap? Now granted, my family has not ever had much money (I’m the granddaughter of not one but two preachers, and not the Joel Osteen type) but I face tremendous guilt when I don’t finish all the food on my plate or buy something that’s not on sale. My grandma will eat leftovers until she’s quite literally scraping mold off the top layer.

          My favorite non-harmful example, though, is my mom’s (not Dutch) insistence that Orville Redenbacher popcorn was the best brand, and my dad (Dutch, and the one who did the grocery shopping) rolling his eyes and refilling the same plastic Orville jar – with store-brand popcorn – for a literal decade. I still don’t think she knows.

          1. Introverted Not Shy*

            My mom would have known, she was a popcorn fanatic. OR had bigger, fluffier kernals and few that didn’t pop. Less of the shell to get in your teeth also. It really is better, or at least it used to be. I only buy brand names when it’s worth it.

          2. JustaTech*

            It might be all Nordic-extraction people (we’re Swedish, and I live in a city with a big Norwegian-extraction population) are, um, thrifty. And having seen the farms in Scandinavia, well, I can see why people from there 1) are thrifty, and 2) went Viking/immigrated.

            Thankfully the food thing was one thing that *didn’t* get passed down; my family is full of gourmets and foodies.

      3. Bee*

        Same! Especially because I moved to NYC on a stifling salary and couldn’t spend a single dollar without accounting for it in my budget. Now that I’ve finally got a little more breathing room, I am slightly more able to convince myself that the joy I will get out of the thing I want is worth more than the price increase over the thing that is functional but makes me kind of sad. Hence, my whale-shaped butter dish, which only cost like $5 more than the plain plastic ones but makes me smile every time I look at it.

        1. Marni*

          I’m a big fan of incremental cost analysis. Frugal Brain: “Oh, 11.99 seems like a lot for this cute gadget.” Social Brain: “But the least I could spend to get the function I need is 8.99, so we’re only talking bout $3 extra for the fun factor? SOLD!”

          I’ll bet your butter whale is GREAT.

        2. Temp anon*

          OMG, my partner almost FREAKED when I bought a butter dish. It wasn’t even a fancy one, just simple glass one from Crate and Barrel. But in his mind butter dishes were something FANCY people had, how could we be that sort of people? But it’s oddly compartmentalized; he was able to buy a BMW.

      4. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, it stays with you. When my ancient car finally bit the dust, I did a lot of research on what to buy and realized I wanted something only 2-3 yrs old–nothing fancy, just newer and nicer. I loved my paid-off, ancient car, but I also spent a lot of time and money fixing it at the end of its life. Or just living with a back window I permanently wired shut because it wasn’t worth the repair costs or the knob that broke off — hey, I could still turn the dial, more or less!

        I needed something that could go on road trips without wondering if it would break down (I was renting cars a lot the last few years because I worried ancient car would break down). And I *wanted* to just, for once, have a few years where something didn’t break off every 2-3 months. I spent more up front, but don’t have to rent cars or worry about pricey repairs for awhile, and it bought me some peace of mind.

      5. Harper the Other One*

        I was like this for personal purchases and the thing that helped me was to think of usage cost. If I buy the $20 shirt and I don’t really like it, I won’t wear it as often; it ends up sitting on the hanger while I pick other things, and is really a waste of money. The $40 shirt that I wear twice as often is usually the better buy.

        This was particularly helpful for me when it came to shoes, because man, is it ever worth spending the extra money for GOOD, well-fitting shoes.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Usage cost including storage cost — that’s one thing I do like about Marie Kondo’s brand of minimalism.

    6. RabbitRabbit*

      “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

      “Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

      “But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

      “This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

      Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

      1. Sharrbe*

        This. I grew up in a lower middle class family and we bought everything very cheaply, which meant we had to replace things all the time. I continued shopping this way well into my 30’s even though I had the money to afford more expensive products. In my 40’s, I finally decided to crack my wallet open a little more and invest in some good quality products and I’ve been amazed at the difference. Boots, coats, vaccuum cleaners, etc. all worth paying (reasonably) extra for. I can’t even remember when I purchased the pair of winter boots that I have now but they still look brand new.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Yes, this!!! My $150 Vasque hiking boots with the leather uppers and Gore-tex lining, amortized over the 25 years I wore them, were practically free! I literally could not buy a cheap pair of sneakers once a year for the $6/year those nice hiking boots worked out to be!

          R.I.P., Vasque hiking boots. I miss you every day! May your MOAB replacements be even half as sturdy.

          1. wickedtongue*

            Really excited to hear this since I just bought some Vasque hiking boots and died a little at the price. They may be the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought?

        2. Liz*

          I have this discussion with a friend ALL the time. we are both in our 50s but she has been on her own since she turned 18, supporting herself, whereas i went to college, mostly paid for by my parents, and while we were not rich, we weren’t poor either. She has always, and continues to live paycheck to paycheck, although now she is able to save a bit. but she can’t wrap her head around the fact that while you can buy thing a or b cheaply at a discount store vs. buying a pricier version somewhere else, that cheap version will not last as long and it may not serve the purpose you want it for well.

          I was looking some years ago at a new carryon suitcase. One that you could bring on a plane, and possibly have to gate check vs. just throwing it in your trunk for a road trip. In my mind, i’m willing to pay more since i won’t have control over how its handled, etc. on a plane. So I was willing to pay more for a good one that would last. She kept telling me that the local chain pharmacy had some on sale cheap. Well yes but they might fall apart after one trip! but if i was looking for something to store things in my closet in, well then, its fine.

          I’m very fussy about my kitchen stuff. pots, knives etc. I’ll buy the best I can, usually looking for deals. and have bought stuff in thrift and consignment shops too! Never do I pay full price for any of it, yet i’ve had people comment “it must be nice” to be able to have all those nice things. well yes, yes it is but i budget and plan and hunt down deals.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            I try to look at each purchase and decide if it’s something worth getting a high-quality one or if I should get a cheap one (or a series of cheap ones).

            When I was having sewer line issues that led to some…unpredictable and nasty mopping needs, I bought 5 or 6 dollar store mops and buckets, because I wanted to use those once and throw them out rather than worry about sterilizing them for general use going forward (this may have been more of a personal gross-out thing, since I was using enough bleach in the clean-up mixture that the buckets and mops should have also been fine to re-use). Sure, sometimes it took two mops per clean-up job because they’d fall apart, but I was willing to accept that consequence. My regular mop, on the other hand, is not from the dollar store. (I also did not cheap out on how to fix the sewer issue.) Similarly, I have a collection of dollar store stuff that I car-travel with because I don’t want to worry about forgetting my nice scissors in a hotel room somewhere.

            I try to ask myself “how much quality do I need here?” Sometimes the cheap thing is fine (I am so glad for the dollar store tongs I have to fish things out of the pool skimmer with), and sometimes it’s worth the upgrade (nice kitchen knives for use in the actual kitchen).

            1. Parenthetically*

              Yeah, I’m the same, even with silly things. I won’t buy $5 flip-flops because they won’t last and they give me blisters. I hate spending $25 on Teva flip-flops, but they last multiple summers, and look great, and are actually comfortable. But one of those scratchy metal grill cleaning brushes? It’s going to get ruined by the end of the summer anyway, so I am 100% getting the one from the dollar store.

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                I highly recommend avoiding those …ever since I noticed metal bristles fell off of ours and ended up in the food. We’re currently using steel-coil pads for surfaces, and the in-betweens we use a dull but pointy metal blade. (Unfortunately still attached to the metal brush which I have to remind my fatherinlaw we can’t use!)

              2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                I have had weirdly good luck with $5 slide-on plastic sandals from Grocery Outlet. I bought them for the non-demanding task of “walking between my shower and my swimming pool” and expected them to last my first pool season, after which I’d know more about how often I actually swam and what particular features I might want to look for in a Good Pair of Pool Shoes. (The strategy of “buying the cheap thing first to give you opinions about what you might want out of thing-category before spending money on the specific features you want” was in play here – I hadn’t owned a pair of pool/shower shoes since college before I bought a place with a pool, so I really didn’t have any opinion on what I wanted in that type of shoe.)

                It’s two years later, they’re still in great shape, I basically wear them every day as slippers and for brief trips outside (such as bringing in the garbage can), and I just bought a second pair as “backup” so if they eventually disintegrate I’ll have a spare on deck.

                I have no idea why some cheap things work really well and other don’t, but I guess I got lucky that time.

                On the other hand, my “leaving the house” shoes are a $300+ pair of backpacking boots, which I wear with socks that cost more than $10 a pair. Those were worth buying the good ones for, and they are worth every penny.

        3. Introverted Not Shy*

          This is why being poor is expensive. You just don’t have the cash flow to pay more for the giant economy size, or better quality, longer lasting product.

        4. nonegiven*

          I know a guy from a ‘wealthy’ family, (for this area.) The guy is using things that belonged to his grandfather, who died in 1948.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot*

            This does not surprise me. I’ve got some things older that I’m still using.

      1. Morticia*

        I actually love this philosophy, and embrace it wholeheartedly.
        Also, shout out to my fellow Pratchett nerds.

    7. MarsJenkar*

      Indeed. Even with my current budget issues limiting my options, I still try to shop for value rather than just price.

    8. LawBee*

      I have been trying to drill this into my best friend’s head for decades. If you cheap out on cost, you’re likely cheaping out on quality, and it will cost you more in the long run. But it’s a hard mindset to break.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I used to buy a new purse every three months, because the inexpensive ones ($20 or so) would break. I had a preferred style, and when I encountered one from Coach, I decided to buy it for $100. I had it for years. (I still have it–it’s just that I need to carry more stuff now; I’d probably have to replace the strap, because it got really beat up, but the bag itself is still a great shape.)

        1. Autumnheart*

          I bought a Coach purse at the outlet for $75 in 2004. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a person who buys shoes and bags for quality, but then doesn’t take very good care of them. But I’ve been carrying this purse every day and it has been nigh indestructible, despite being stepped on, dropped, mud gotten on it, you name it. That sucker was built to last.

          1. Ralkana*

            This. I buy Kate Spade purses. Always at the outlet and always majorly on sale. But I am not gentle with my bags, and every single one I have is still in fantastic shape. They’re excellent quality, and they don’t cost THAT much more than cheap bags.

    9. Observer*

      Of course. The problem is that the OP clearly understands that, but employee is having a hard time with this.

    10. Emmie*

      “We are not going to discuss lower sticker price options.” I’d modify AAM’s wording slightly to impress the reality that the cheaper sticker price option isn’t the best option for the company.

    11. Sharrbe*

      This might be something thats worth bringing up the employee since the current explanation isn’t working. “We find that buying mid-price range products last longer than cheap ones and therefore cost us less in the long run…….”.

      On a side note, he may actually have too much time on his hands if he’s able to do extensive price comparisons during the workday.

      1. Rachel Greep*

        He doesn’t have the time to do extensive price comparisons during the workday. That was part of OP’s complaint. The labor costs involved in the “cheaper” solutions, including the research into finding those “cheaper” solutions, exceed the savings.

        1. nonoseweasly*

          It might help the OP to timebox the amount of time spent. If he is told that he has 20 minutes, or an hour or half a day or whatever reasonable time is to spend on this and put together a proposal, then perhaps he can stick to that.

          When anyone in my team seems to be going off on a tangent with a project, I would reel them back in quickly with a ‘prioritise x and z, and spend a maximum of an hour on y and deliver it by tomorrow’ type statement.

    12. HollyGen*

      Makes me think of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness’

      “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

      Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

      But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

  3. Lena Clare*

    This reminds me of the letter writer who wrote in saying that they were trying to save money by not claiming legitimate expenses or overtime, and was annoyed that their co-workers didn’t do the same.

    Alison’s advice is great. Is this something that you’d put the employee on a PIP for if it didn’t improve?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A PIP is best for work quality issues. I wouldn’t normally use one for something like this (unless your workplace requires it, which some would). In a case like this, assuming there weren’t ADA constraints in play, I’d figure out the logical consequences (is it something you’d let him go over? restructure his job over? demote him over? will it affect his future raises/project potential/promotion potential?), warn him of what those are, and then follow through if it continues.

      1. Sara without an H*

        If the employee’s work is otherwise good (and it sounds as though it is), I’d just try to restructure the job so that he didn’t have to deal with any purchasing or pre-purchase research. (I’d be very suspicious of any company or product recommendations he came up with.) If it’s really only 15% of the job, that should be doable.

        This really isn’t a situation where a PIP would make sense, because it appears that the employee recognizes — at least occasionally — that his behavior isn’t appropriate, but is unable to change.

      2. Observer*

        This could turn into a work quality issue, though. The most likely problem is that he lets his anxiety affect the research he does and the recommendations he makes. If you get too focused on costs (or any single issue, generally), you wind up missing other important stuff.

      3. Lena Clare*

        I guess I’m looking at it from angle that it *is* affecting his work, but I take your point.

          1. Lena Clare*

            Ah! Ok, I get it.
            In all the places I’ve worked, PIPs have been the last stage before someone left or was fired, rather than used as a learning tool.

    2. ElizabethJane*

      I’m not Allison (obvi) nor am I a manager but I don’t know if this is something I’d put a person on a PIP for. It’s a yes or a no thing. To me a PIP is a long term plan (“You don’t have X skill, I really need you to develop it in a month”) where as this is “Stop doing this thing”. I realize if anxiety is at play it’s not as easy as “Just stop” but I don’t know that giving the employee a month to stop seems… pointless (?)

      1. AMT*

        Yeah, this is one discrete behavior that shouldn’t be this hard to curtail assuming there aren’t other issues at play. Maybe it needs to be framed less as “don’t be anxious about money” and more as “don’t make your anxiety my problem.” Anxiety is obviously not rational, but there’s a huge difference between *having* anxiety about something and *expressing* it to your boss every time you need to buy something and expecting said boss to deal with your feelings. He can be as anxious as he wants in private, but if the LW says “come up with a solution in X price range with Y features,” that’s a pretty simple ask with a straightforward solution.

        Even without anxiety, this is something a lot of us have to learn as we move up the ladder and gain more decision-making authority. You might have tons of feelings about a particular task, but those feelings are not necessarily going to be relevant to your boss when you deliver on that task, and relying on them to manage your emotions adds unnecessary work to their pile (and make you look clueless).

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          “don’t make your anxiety my problem.”

          Good way to put it. Anxiety, both rational and not, happens. It is on the person with the anxiety to manage it. Context: I have diagnosed, in treatment OCD, an anxiety disorder. It is not my boss / husband / kid’s job to deal with that. I can ask for reasonable accommodation [let me leave the room if you’re going to watch zombie movies], but can’t make it their problem [you can’t ever watch zombie movies].

          1. MeMeMe*

            I sincerely applaud you for this — it really speaks to the love, respect, and consideration you have for your family and others that you’re willing to do this. (Sorry for the TMI, but as the child of two parents with untreated mental illness of which they were in denial, I WISH my parents had had the self-awareness to take responsibility for managing their problems instead of forcing me to do it for them.)

            1. Oranges*

              I’m sorry that your parents couldn’t/wouldn’t protect you from their own mental issues.

            2. PlainJane*

              Seconded. My dad made his mental issues our problem, and it was pretty dang unpleasant. I have nothing but sympathy for people who struggle with mental health issues, but it still isn’t OK for them to create collateral damage all over the place.

            3. Jules the 3rd*

              Thanks… I’m not perfect, I have had to tell my kid to dial down some stories that most people would be ok with, but I’m trying, and I do know it’s on me.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          Yeah, I think the problem isn’t the anxiety itself so much as the lack of management of it.

          OP mentioned in another comment that she’s talked to him about resources, taking time off, etc., but that the employee has declined. He needs to at least be addressing it in some way. I know mental health is complicated, even with treatment, but if he’s not at least trying to control it, that’s an issue.

    3. Jennifer*

      Didn’t they carry a computer or something a long distance instead of calling a cab or using public transit? I wonder if this is the same guy?

      1. Lena Clare*

        Yes, that’s them.
        I have an idea that that person was a woman, and this is a man, but at any rate I doubt it’s the same person!

      2. Jen S. 2.0*

        I was coming here to say that it looks like that guy has found a new job!

        He was walking miles with equipment instead of taking a bus, going hungry instead of eating the lunch provided, and was trying to opt out of health insurance, all to save the company money. Then he was furious with his coworkers for eating the pizza. Poor thing.

  4. ElizabethJane*

    We had an employee like this. He was tasked with ordering donuts for an all staff meeting that took place at 9:00. He ordered Munchkins (donut holes) instead of full donuts, and only ordered enough for everyone to have one, because it would save money.

    We’re a $3 billion dollar company funded by a massive holding corporation. We can spring for full sized donuts.

    1. WellRed*

      So, did you each really just get a munchkin? Or did they send him back to to the doughnut shop?

      1. ElizabethJane*

        We all got one munchkin. He did it just a few minutes before the meeting so there wasn’t time to go back.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Burl Ives tackled this decades ago — who else remembers the Donut Song from summer camp?
          “When you walk the streets you’ll have no cares
          If you walk the lines and not the squares
          As you go through life make this your goal
          Watch the donut, not the hole!”

      1. Anna*

        I think some people get so caught up in the cost saving buzzwords they forget that those are really about bigger expenses, not three dozen donuts for a meeting. If you work for a company where 3 dozen donuts is going to break the budget, they certainly can’t afford you, either.

        1. Mel*

          Yes. I worked for a company that would cut things like donuts, but then spend tons of money on “fun” office equipment. When I left they were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and as far I know they still are :(

          1. Anna*

            “Cut office spending by 1.5% percent by not buying full-sized donuts for meetings” doesn’t actually look that good on your resume. :)

      2. ElizabethJane*

        Honestly it’s weird to me any time a relatively low level employee makes the company’s finances their personal issue. I mean, when I travel I follow our stated per diems and I book flights as far in advance as possible to save money, but if the company tells me I can spend $50 a day on food I’m not going to eat saltine crackers to save them $47. I figure they know what they’re doing when they set their per diems and I’m not going to horribly inconvenience myself (or starve my coworkers) to save more.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          There have been a few similar examples. One of them (her frustrated travel companion wrote in) was about to leave the company and just didn’t feel right having them spend money on her attending a conference, so she walked miles in the heat and ate packaged food she toted from home. Another, the higher ups said “be careful of spending” and so rather than not book any unneeded travel, she was taking multiple busses with the heavy equipment rather than hire a vehicle. (She wrote in because she couldn’t get anyone else in the department on board.)

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah, I feel like they may be petrified of “unapproved expenses” and that Guacamole Bob is going to drop from the rafters on his budget bungie cords to demand they pay it back and punish them for their over-spending sins.

          I’ve had notoriously cheap bosses over the years and even then, it was in the form of “We BBQ instead of do catered lunches” or “we get supermarket donuts, not Donut Shop donuts.” JFC

                1. Rainy*

                  Back in the day, you supplied your own potato, so no reason you couldn’t have a Mr Avocado Head.

            1. BuildMeUp*

              This is the funniest mental image! Like Mission: Impossible, but aggressively cheap and nitpicky!

        3. OlympiasEpiriot*

          I work at a firm where the mail room and supplies supervisor (relatively “low-level”, but I actually consider this a sort of Quartermaster position and truly important…these are the people who save our a$$e$ when submissions have to be done, or reports put together) has always been praised for saving money by their boss even when the rest of the firm just mocks the penny-pinching. I think part of the problem is who is chosen to review a low-level employee and what that person finds important w.r.t. that particular employee.

        4. Birch*

          Came here to say this! This idea is so fascinating and I really want to know where it comes from. Is it that the employees are buying into the “we’re family” mentality and tying their identity to the company, thus transferring their personal economic ethics to the company? Do they feel like any money spent is less going into their salaries (without understanding how budgeting works)? Is it a sense of performative self-sacrifice, like being the most frugal also makes you the best employee? Are they afraid of retribution for seeming to spend too much company money? Do they not consider why they feel it necessary to violate that boundary?

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            It varies depending on the person.

            Most people don’t grasp business, let alone the financial side of things. So they see large numbers [to them] and panic. They’re thinking with their Individual Budget in mind. So they’ll jump at the idea of paying hundreds of dollars for something that would take them months or years to save up. Instead of really grasping that the company is bringing in hundreds of thousands, even millions or billions in a lot of cases and that they’re all carefully calculated to still turn that profit margin.

            They may have been victims of poverty at some time and see every penny has precious, even when it’s not their penny. Or they could just not see the value in “wasting” pennies, that again, aren’t even theirs on things like donuts or “luxury” items in their mind.

            They rarely think it’s going to put more money in their pockets but sometimes that’s the case. There are CEO’s who are awful and they’re cheap because they do get a chunk of the profits so that’s why they decide to charge for coffee and snacks, etc. Some of those same Scrooges have also really harmed their former employees who are now afraid to spend money because if they do, then they’re going to take away the free coffee and powdered creamer, so they better only buy one donut hole per person for that meeting or else!

            It’s rarely logical. Like most anxiety, it’s rooted in deep fears.

            1. ursula*

              I came here to say this, too. I wouldn’t want to speculate (or attribute it all to how he grew up without more info), but the experience of living in poverty has a lasting effect on how many people relate to money, and that stuff can be really hard to shake because it touches things about security and safety etc. There’s a lot of interesting conversation about this in Gaby Dunn’s Bad With Money podcast and on The Billfold (RIP).

              NB: I don’t think this changes too much about how you’d want to handle the issue

            2. Lora*

              I’ve seen it even in fairly middle class people who make 6 figures, sometimes – guy I used to work with who was VERY resentful of how much his bosses made from him (at a contract A&E firm) because he handled the purchase orders and change orders and whatnot, so he knew what he was billed at vs what he got paid. One day I told him how much Big MegaPharma used to make off my intellectual property (whether it results in a product or not, IP gets assigned some valuation through arcane and possibly demonic processes I don’t pretend to understand – I only get the equivalent of a Certificate of Appreciation and a notification that someone thinks it should be developed further vs shelved because Valuation) vs how much I was paid as an averagely-compensated bench scientist…he didn’t understand why ANYONE would work for Big Pharma instead of starting their own business with their IP.

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                I’ve seen it play out like that as well.

                That’s usually ignorance on how business works. He’s paid less because his risk factor is lower. You sell your work/skillset at whatever it’s deemed worth by said business. If not, you can certainly go try to start your own business, take on the risk and debts necessary and see how you fair.

                I’ve even seen a lot of people who have tried to start up a fly by night competitor business to their “scrooge” bosses. Then they fold up just as quickly as they “started” because they took for granted the structure the Ex-Boss had in place due to their own back breaking work/sweat equity involved in the starting procedure.

            3. Avasarala*

              Totally agree. When I was a child I translated all amounts of money to how many Beanie Babies I could buy at $5 each. Got $25 for my birthday? Wow that’s 5 new beanie babies!

              When I got my first salaried position and had to buy an international flight, I gasped at how expensive it was. That’s like, a third of all the money to my name!
              When I booked the same flight for work I felt so guilty to ask for so much money… but to my company, that’s just a drop in the ocean.

          2. TechWorker*

            I’m not sure about valuing frugality but I can understand the opposite – like my little brother earns a really below market salary for their experience/education – but his company spends a looot around the office and socials. Some people might be like ‘yay free expensive food’ whereas others, if they’re barely getting by/paying bills, are just thinking they’d rather take the cash :p

            Maybe in an office where the junior folk are not well paid that feeds in…

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              It’s because you can cut back on socials/free expensive food immediately if cash starts floundering. Whereas cutting salaries is much worse than paying lesser wages over all. It’s the “lesser evil” to offer the lower ‘sustainable’ wages. But again, nobody cares about that when they’re struggling to live of course!

              It’s one of those “There’s a business reasoning behind that seemingly poor financial decision.” things.

              Yeah we all know that you shouldn’t have employees if you can’t afford to pay them market rates but at the same time, those jobs also help people break into industries at times too, so there’s a pay off and people will always try to pay nothing for a lot in return cuz humans.

              1. doreen*

                ‘It’s because you can cut back on socials/free expensive food immediately if cash starts floundering. Whereas cutting salaries is much worse than paying lesser wages over all.” I tried to explain this to a friend of mine once, but he didn’t believe me till it happened. His company moved from the city to a suburb that would require him to commute via railroad . His boss was “nice enough” to buy him a monthly pass and because of that, my friend didn’t even ask for a raise for the next year or two. And naturally at some point boss decided ” We can’t pay for your train ticket anymore, we aren’t paying for anybody else’s transportation”. Now of course , there was no way my friend would have gotten a raise just because the company moved- but if he had believed me that the train ticket would end, maybe he would have looked for another job rather than essentially taking a pay cut.

                1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                  OMFG that is pretty slimy and they must have really spiraling to want to cut out the what, $150 a month transit pass?

                  It reminds me of the evil that is Bernie Ebbers and how he made people pay for coffee at WorldCom to save some frigging pennies [while he was scamming of course because con artists, man]. Watch that American Greed episode, it’ll make you baaaaaaaaaaarf.

        5. Guacamole Bob*

          Sometime I think it’s about the disconnect between the employee’s relationship with money in their personal life and the company’s finances. For a long time as a young adult I was able to pay the rent but had to be relatively frugal, and the idea of spending $50/day on food on a vacation would have seemed pretty lavish. Adjusting to the idea that a $30 dinner on a business trip wasn’t considered a waste of company money took a little time.

          1. Alanna of Trebond*

            This, plus not having an intuitive benchmark for what’s “reasonable” for big group or business costs, or for what it means to be reasonably frugal in that context.

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            Forgive me if I’m suspicious about your input in this letter’s comment section, Guacamole Bob.


            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              I decided to pop back in and make a comment here to save some confusion for future readers : “Guacamole Bob” the commenter picked their screenname from a AAM nickname given to a co-worker in an old column. THAT Bob refused an expense report that included extra guacamole. They’re totally not the same person. Which is why Indigo’s comment made me laugh out loud.

        6. Willis*

          Yes! I worked with someone who seemed like he pretty actively wanted the company to realize what he was saving when we traveled. We would usually pay as a group at meals (we had some spending guidelines but not a strict per diem so as long as the cost was reasonable we were fine). He would ask for a separate check for his portion…I guess so he could submit his inexpensive receipt!? But the thing was, no one was keeping this close an eye on any of our expenses or tallying up what we each spent for the trip. Like, “eats inexpensive lunches” was not anything the company valued in employees, so he was really shooting for a non-existent target.

          1. Mike S*

            Many years ago, a coworker and I went to a conference at Epcot, and I managed to talk my boss into letting us stay at the park. (Not having to pay for a rental car and parking helped offset the cost of the room.) We ended up mostly doing pizza for dinner, because we were young guys, and liked pizza. After we submitted our expense reports, we got a visit from the head of accounting, because we had spent so little, that it really stood out.

        1. Blue*

          And you can get a variety of flavors instead of committing to one! I’m very much pro-donut hole, but yeah…one isn’t going to cut it.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I hope it goes down as office lore. “ONE. DONUT. HOLE. Y’ALL.”

          We always buy tons of food and have leftovers for a few days. I’ve had left over potato salad with my lunch for a week tbh.

    2. Jennifer*

      Lol, something similar happened on the TV show Superstore. A guy from corporate came to visit the store and was very excited to tell everyone that they could have one donut hole each. Then enough was left for everyone to get a SECOND donut hole. Truly a red-letter day.

    3. many bells down*

      I volunteer at a non profit and even they spring for whole donuts once in a while. Well, for us foot soldiers anyway. The board probably gets real donuts more often.

    4. TootsNYC*

      and in fact, you are not only “not accomplishing your mission” (which is to make employees feel indulged and valued) with those donut holes–he actively sabotaged it (because now the employees think you’re cheap; a stingy gesture of generosity is more damaging that no gesture).

      That’s a thing to explain–there is value in “splurging” on things; it sends a message to your employees about what you value.

      1. VictorianCowgirl*

        I’m one of those weird people who’d so much rather just be given the money spent on me than a provided lunch showing they value me, or additional PTO is *always* welcome, but seem to be way in the minority on that.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I dunno, I think the “make employees feel indulged and valued” is, in this case, very much in the context of a good manager thinking, “Hey, it’s a meeting first thing in the morning, everyone hates those, what can we do to make this one suck less?” A good answer to that is to spend $30 on nice donuts and provide decent coffee. I doubt anyone would be made to feel valuable by being given the monetary equivalent of two donuts, however nice the donuts. Nor indeed by being handed $15 in lieu of lunch at a lunch meeting. I take your point about “appreciation lunches,” but I think the context here is “event already taking place that we can add value to by providing a nice treat/meal” rather than a separate event designed to “show appreciation.”

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I think you might be disappointed at how little that really is once things have been bought in bulk. I mean, money is money, but it might only be a couple of dollars.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          But in this case they bought 3 dozen donuts… which is about 80 cents a donut. I’ll take the unexpected donut as a meeting distraction for myself.

    5. Dr. Doll*

      I might actually be a bit grateful because it would stop me from eating more donuts than I really wanted. But I’d laugh at him, too.

    6. Robbenmel*

      I worked with a VP like this. I was the EA for the President/CEO of nonprofit organization. For a meeting that included board members and their guests…people who were very well off themselves and definitely not penny-pinchers…she took it upon herself to order a pizza lunch. She ordered two large pizzas for a meeting of at least 20 people. Neither my boss or I knew what was up until it was nearly time for the meeting. My boss was horribly embarrassed! But the VP was very proud of her innovative idea for stretching the food to cover everyone. “I just had them cut each one into 16 slices!” And pointed to the fact that there were 3 or 4 (tiny, thin) slices left at the end of the meeting. I did not feel it was my place to point out that these very polite people ate very little in light of the amount on offer. This woman was not allowed to order lunch again.

    7. iglwif*


      Now, I actually prefer Timbits (which is what we call donut holes up here in Canuckistan) to full-size donuts because that way I can have a bunch of different flavours without eating a whole bunch of donuts. But ONE PER PERSON is just insulting.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Absurd question: are they called Timbits because they’re tidbits from Tim Hortons?

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Because they’re made with real bits of Tim Horton is more like it.

          I’ll show myself out.

      2. Jack Russell Terrier*

        When mum was recently in hospital I regularly got the nurses a box of donut holes for exactly this reason – more choice and quite frankly they would give a little something to more people – I couldn’t swing to enough donuts for everyone!

  5. CatCat*

    This guy sounds exhausting. Agree with continuing to nip it in the bud and stop explaining.

  6. Stitch*

    Is it possible to move him to another role? It sounds like this is just taking so much of your and his time that it is actually a money waster (penny wise pound foolish).

    1. JSPA*

      I’d say the magic phrase, “penny wise, pound foolish.” And buy a cross-stitch version to frame on his wall.

      No, what I’d actually do is over-supply guidelines for a while, to see if they can break their habit. The problem may trigger with feeling responsible for the decision. Or when hitting the actual “buy” button. Or some other point. If you and they can suss that out, it may help.

      “please spend no more than 40 minutes researching bariatric chairs suitable for 600 lbs, searching only in the $500 to $750 price range per chair. Send the three top candidates to me, then order two of them upon my approval.”

      “We have $300 budgeted for donuts and coffee. Please order from Neighborhood Donut Place, using up at least $150 of the budget on donuts, at least $100 on regular and decaf coffee, and the remainder on bagels. Also order $40 to $60 of Name Brand gluten free breakfast bars online today with 2 day delivery. Have the ordering finished by noon today.”

      “We want to compare in-state, two and three day training programs in OpenOffice for Basketweavers. Please only consider training in the range of $180-$300 per person, per day; rank them by Basket and Weaving skills covered and by the availability of support after the course, not by price. Have the comparison ready for me in 3 hours, as your time is valuable to us.”

      Do several such in a row. If they feel it’s not a phobia or condition in need of treatment, practice should help them over the hump. If it provokes a melt-down, then it’s hard for them to keep telling themselves that no treatment is needed.

      My S.O. used to get meltdowns over this when depressed (anything from whether research was a waste of tax money, to the cost of a bar of chocolate) but overlaid against a cultural and familial distress at spending more than necessary. That’s neither here nor there in the sense that you’re not your employee’s mental health professional, but it does mean I have some practice with figuring out, “is this the broader cultural-personal thing, or the mental health thing?” A shopping list with “a bar of black chocolate in the $4-6 range,” “parsnips up to $6 a lb, if they’re plump, local and unwaxed” etc. was a useful discriminant.

  7. WellRed*

    Guacamole Bob has a cousin. Seriously, though. I can’t imagine how much time this guy must waste.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I was just coming to comment that they should have the conversation at lunch. Order in Chipotle and get everyone guacamole.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Oh c’mon everyone does not need an order of guacamole that is frivolous and wasteful. Two to three people can share an order of guac. /s

        1. StaceyIzMe*

          Is guacamole even necessary? Wouldn’t the vendor discount lunch by fifty cents or so if guacamole was voluntarily omitted from the order? Bob would like an answer…

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Guacamole Bob finally left his job in nonprofits, where no one appreciated his fervent guacamole oversight, and is having a go at the private sector.

    3. Language Lover*

      I suspect this guy’s guac solution wouldn’t be “no guac” but to buy a bunch of avocados (and other guac ingredients) and smash them up themselves. Lower cost but high salary as high paid execs spend work time doing what Chipotle does more efficiently at a more reasonable rate.

      1. OP*

        I’m the OP for this, and just want to say that you are ENTIRELY CORRECT as to what I think his preferred solution would be. And he would find it ridiculous that I wouldn’t understand his perfectly rational explanation of why ordering lunches for a (very expensive in salary costs) meeting is a time savings over ordering sandwich fixings and having people assemble their foods.

        Complete. Disconnect.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Have you ever done a cost breakdown of the labor for something like that for him? For example, I needed something once that cost about $1000 (peanuts, in my industry). I asked my boss whether I could spend the money during a meeting with one other person (so, three expensive people present). He said, “We probably just spent $1000 talking about it. Go ahead.” So something like, “Fergus, 8 people who cost $500/hr spending 15 min making their own sandwich would cost $1000. Sandwiches for 8 cost $125. Order the sandwiches.”

          1. Alanna of Trebond*

            This is a great example. I’m not crazy frugal at work and if my boss tells me not to worry about it, I don’t… but this still kind of blew my mind. (The only thing is that for us, staff lunches come out of a totally different column in the ledger than salaries, and different managers have control over those parts of the budget, so we’re not actually making an apples-to-apples comparison here. Still, though, it’s useful enough to me to be worth doing!)

          2. TootsNYC*

            “We probably just spent $1000 talking about it.”

            Oh, my goodness! An executive did once blast this out at a meeting.

            We had some typo in something that was at the printing press, about to run. A little embarrassing because it was clearly a mistake, but in something that had multiple pages and came out every month, typos are just not unheard of. Our top edit person insisted that we ask whether we could change it. Lots of phone calls, etc.

            The head of that department was a little heated and said, “You spent probably $20,000 of people’s time chasing down that answer. Knock it off.”

          3. TootsNYC*

            I think people also often forget that there is something being purchased besides food, or supplies.

            W/food, there is time being purchased while people don’t have to go seeking sustenance. There is also goodwill being purchased (and cheaping out is worse than not supplying it).

            W/ supplies, there is productivity because the chair is comfortable, adjusts easily, doesn’t break soon. And again, some level of goodwill, because getting a decent-quality chair or good-quality file folders says, “the company cares about your comfort and thinks the tasks you do are important.”

          4. Alfonzo Mango*

            This is important to keep in mind for meetings, too. If you schedule 8 people who make $50 an hour, you’re spending $400 to have a 1 hour meeting.

            1. Close Bracket*

              8 people who make $50/hr have their time charged at $300+/hr, so you are spending way more than $400 on that meeting!

            2. Jennifer Thneed*

              It’s even more than that, because if they earn $50/hour, they cost the company at least twice that.

            3. SusanIvanova*

              I know someone who works at a mid-sized but high profile tech company, small enough that an “all hands” meeting really is everyone in the company. The CEO called an all hands and then didn’t show. They waited about 15 minutes and then gave up. It’s estimated those 15 minutes cost the company well into the millions.

          5. Rainy*

            Someone who works in my same organization, but not in my office, is a liar to such a degree that she can’t meet with any director-level person anymore without meeting with all of the director-level people she deals with, because they discovered she was triangulating. But of course they don’t fire her, even though every hour of meetings she has now is wasting multiple hours of director-level time just to make sure that no more than one in three words that comes out of her mouth is a blatant falsehood.

            When I found out I just sat there blinking for a minute.

        2. Liz*

          I know many people like this. and not just in work settings. They are what I like to call irrationally and obsessively cheap. So they will pinch pennies until they scream, at the cost of making more work for themselves or others, when it may just be easier to spend the extra $$ and do it the “easy” way the first time. me? i tend to be a bit of a spendthrift, but I am also cheap. I will research my options and go with what works best for ME. sometimes its the more expensive option, sometimes its not.

        3. Violet Fox*

          Not sure how it works where you are but at my university, we actually have approved vendors that we have contracts with, that makes it cheaper to purchase through them, and in may cases we are actually required to use these vendors unless they can’t supply what we need.

          People is one of the biggest costs for universities too, and even we know that our vips and higher ups are worth more working than making their own sandwiches durning a meeting.

  8. nnn*

    I wonder what would happen if you required him to put a line item for employee time required in any report about options he’s researched, and to cost out the employee time required.

    Example: “This option costs $X, and will required 1 hour a week of time from each employee, for a total cost of $Y.”

    On one hand, having to calculate it and write it out might help put it into perspective. On the other hand, it might transfer his anxiety to his colleagues’ salaries, which would be unhelpful.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      It’s a nice gesture in theory – but a solution that involves telling him everyone’s salaries (since it doesn’t sound like he’s in a position where that is something he already knows) is going too far. I could easily see him fixating on staff’s time/salaries as his new “money saver” AND that could make a lot of staff angry with the OP. Honestly, just learning OP told this guy everyone’s salary could annoy people even if he doesn’t overreact to that information!

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Not for other coworkers, but it could work for himself?

        We told you to order donuts from Store A for $12 a dozen, you decided to research other stores that sell donuts and you found one location that has them for $10 a dozen (good job /s) so you “saved” us $2 on donuts but it took you 30/60 minutes to research that at a rate of $20 per hour so at 30 minute research time you actually cost the company an extra $8, or at a 60 minute research time you cost the an extra $18.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          I like this idea. Our timesheets have a timer column which is handy when we start a task. He could be instructed to use something similar (if this firm doesn’t use the same software) and record the length of time he’s doing it.

      2. Magenta*

        You could do something along the lines of the value the company/clients put on that person’s time though. The amount that my company would charge for my work is more than they pay me but it is a good way of showing what it costs the company to have me waste my time on something we could outsource.

        1. Lilysparrow*

          Yeah, you can cost the work-hours on a project without revealing individual salaries. That’s how you create quotes for clients and for internal project proposals.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        The thing is that labor isn’t costed like that…you give him a per-hour number and say that’s the labor overhead, that needs to include all the expenses involved in having a human body there at an adjusted rate.

        Which sounds like what he’s really grappling with when it comes to “It costs us more than your $25 an hour salary, dude.”

      4. EPLawyer*

        I think NNN is suggesting he include HIS time spent researching the “cheaper” option so it shows how much this option really cost the company.

    2. Contracts Killer*

      Having him do this a couple times could be a very enlightening exercise. It’s a concrete example of what, for him, sounds like a fuzzy concept – time versus money. If he starts to understand that “time” actually equals $100, for example, he doesn’t have to give up his idea that it’s better to spend time than money. He can how see instances where “time” will cost more than “money”.

    3. Mel*

      You could do a set number for employee time. Like an “average hourly wage” instead of people’s specific hourly cost. Just to get an idea.

      I’ve used the time-cost example to convince people above me to spring for something before. Of course, I didn’t have to spell it out for them, I just had to say, ” It’s cheaper to buy this than to make it”, which has already been said.

    4. OP*

      I’ve actually done that, in a similar exercise regarding his own time as an example (in one of the earlier discussions, where I legitimately thought he didn’t understand) – along the lines of “look. In general, time costs are 3x wage gosts – your time is paid for at X, and costs the company 3X if we manage it well. That’s fine, and that’s what we budget for, and that applies to all your colleagues.”

      I REALLY don’t want to get into specific salaries of people, because that seems like another anxiety hook just waiting to happen, and he absolutely and categorically cannot manage people’s time and work habits.

      1. WellRed*

        “he absolutely and categorically cannot manage people’s time and work habits.”
        OMG, the thought is horrifying.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        “I’ve actually done that, in a similar exercise regarding his own time as an example”
        What the heck else can you do?
        Spending money triggers panic. He says he is not panicking, he is being rational but urgent.
        Can you tell him how much of your time he is wasting having to go over this every single time?

        1. darsynia*

          Perhaps this is a key to helping him visualize. I’m sure it’s probably not helpful, but I kind of wish you could say something like, ‘I value my time during meetings with coworkers at X, and I took the liberty of compiling a list of the times we’ve gone over this issue. So far, the tally stands at Y. You tell me that you’re concerned about overspending, and I’ve taken more than enough time to explain this to you in various ways. At this point, your inability to understand the way finances work at this company has cost us money in simple productivity. When this figure reaches Z, I will have to re-evaluate your job responsibilities in order to keep down unnecessary costs.’

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think indulging that anxiety by reasoning it out with him is actually counterproductive.

          it tells him that his point of view has validity, and it feeds the Anxiety Monster.

          Pooh-pooh him, brush him off, get stern and tell him that he may NOT suggest the cheapest solution, etc.

          Provide discipline he can cling to as he battles the anxiety.

        3. CM*

          “What the heck else can you do?”

          Yup, that’s where I am too after reading the OP’s followup comments.

          I think it’s time to stop trying and shut it down, OP.

        4. OP*

          “What the heck else can you do?”

          I mean, I was honestly hoping for a miracle solution or a magical statement that I hadn’t uttered, but in reality, that’s not something that exists, I think (or, at least, it’s something I haven’t seen suggested here, and y’all are a fantastically smart bunch, so.).

          … so. Shutting down future discussions, moving him back to a fully-data-based role with no view of finances at all. It’s his area of competence, and he doesn’t get into anxiety spirals there. (And then the discussion about how this role has no growth, no growth = stable salary, and a raise = more responsibilities = I need to see that he can handle them, which I can’t at the moment. ARGH.)

          1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            Can you tell him that he tried and failed? He doesn’t have the stomach/talent/ability to make the effective decisions about spending. “You are not a bad employee and certainly not a bad person, but you are not suited to this position.”

            1. OP*

              Well, I’m definitely gonna have to!

              Specifically: because ANY role going up requires a basic handling of budgets, and if he can’t do that, then none of them are suited, and it’s unkind to just leave him wondering what he could be doing to get a promotion when the answer is pretty clear.

              1. valentine*

                His inability to see that cost is often not the most important factor and his extreme ideas to force cost-cutting mean something other than anxiety about money is at hand. (Not that you have to CSI that.) His interference in costs and conversations (!) he’s not involved in is disruptive, but, if he can do the non-budget job well, can you exempt him from the usual structure and award raises based on performance, as an accommodation?

                Can you get a temp in to do the budget part of his job until you can sort everything?

              2. Danish*

                I know it’s not at all an employer’s job to manage or even really monitor an employee’s mental (or otherwise) health decisions, and you mentioned that he declined therapy/assistance before, but maybe with this framing he might be more open to it.

                Like, listen dude… your anxiety about this means you are potentially not suited for ANY upward movement in this company. You can’t/shouldn’t make him go and him going doesn’t guarantee a higher position, but maybe he needs to know that this is a REALLY REAL ISSUE that is severely impacting his future.

                As a person with anxiety myself it’s easy to tell yourself that it’s annoying and inconvenient and stressful but not worth seeking medical help over (and, I think (younger?) Americans in particular have this kind of approach to any health care–if you’re not actively dying you’re probably okay, right? Insurance costs amirite???) For myself, I definitely had to lose a real-life friend specifically because the anxiety was just too much to handle before it to read as A Real Problem That Needs Fixing and not just, oh I’m stressed out sometimes. Maybe with the information that [this emotional quirk he has] is going to have this [real world, tangible, long term, negative impact] it might motivate him to better try and manage it.

          2. Avasarala*

            Yeah, unfortunately I think all the creative wording in the world is not going to suddenly convince the scared little part of his brain that goes “this is too precious to waste, we must conserve to be safe.” You can’t get through to that with logic.

            I think at this point, your best bet is to flag that this is a major skill deficiency–the ability to budget wisely–and until he is able to do that well, you’re taking that off his plate. And because you’re doing that, it will affect his future career & salary options. Maybe addressing his anxiety about spending money will help him develop this skill, here’s info about the EAP, but what you do with this information is up to you… kind of chat.

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

              Sounds like a good approach. Clearly whatever psychological hang up is going on here cannot be solved by rational explanation. Maybe framing it as an essential skill that you can get help for will improve things, and the recognition that it is a failing rather than a virtue to focus so much on cost will jolt him into getting help.

              But I think it might be really intractable. Is he like this with his own costs? Or does he spend more typical amounts on, say, his lunch? If he’s one of those people who will wear shirts that are falling apart at the collar and eats only the cheapest possible lunch (assuming there are no hidden poverty issues) then this may be a huge struggle. Changing his job responsibilities is a kindness in some ways but so is making it clear that this is a serious professional limitation.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        oog, yeah. He can not manage people’s time / work habits, no.

        I think you’ve been making the right choices so far, and I really like Alison’s scripts. I agree with Close Bracket’s script below, to label the *behavior* not the *emotion*, too.

        I think the *easiest* solution is going to be finding a way to take that 15% ‘financial work’ off his workload. I recommend giving him one more shot on not making his anxiety your problem, but with the explicit statement ‘this has to change or we’re going to need to shuffle workload.’ Keep it matter-of-fact, like “When you push back on this decision, it takes time away from the valuable work you do. If you’re not able to accept these decisions quickly, we’re going to need to take you out of the loop and give you some different tasks.”

        It will help your employee accept it if you make it clear this is *not* job threatening (unless, of course, it is), it’s just you need him to have a different focus / set of tasks.

      4. LadyofLasers*

        Wow, it really sounds like you’ve done a thorough job of addressing the rational side of this. To my mind that speaks to how much he’s letting anxiety rule his life.

      5. Observer*

        and he absolutely and categorically cannot manage people’s time and work habits

        Heavens! No, he most definitely can’t! I can’t imagine the mess you’d have to deal with if he even though he could make suggestions.

      6. I'm A Little Teapot*

        Just shut it down, every time. And if he can’t, it becomes a performance issue, because really it is one.

      7. SleepyKitten*

        Good to know you’ve done this! For anyone else reading, you don’t need to go into specific salaries. When my company was reviewing the amount of time we were spending in meetings, they just told us that they charge £100 per hour per employee, so having an hour-long 8 person meeting takes up £800 of client fees. Everyone in that room gets paid a different amount, but actually the salary variance isn’t on the same order of magnitude as building rent, electricity, tea bags, etc, so for back-of-the-envelope calculations everyone’s time costs the same. I’m told the actual Profitability Calculation System has a much more specific time cost calculation – hopefully not down to the individual teabag.

        If £100/hour seems high, that’s because it’s the amount we charge, not the actual cost to us. Since we sell services and all know what we’re charging the client monthly, using the client cost means we can quickly calculate how much of our “time budget” we’re using up.

    5. Accounting IsFun*

      I like that! Request he includes opportunity costs in his estimates – so if we are asking everyone to spend time collating papers rather than sending them out to be printed, we value their time as if they were doing the things they should be doing. That will hopefully allow him to see that labor isn’t free. But – I don’t know that would address his anxiety issues. Maybe doing a 2 pronged approach of including opportunity costs in his cost analysis as well as doing Allison’s advice would help resolve the situation.

    6. Jules the 3rd*

      It’s a good idea for new / inexperienced people to do exercises like this so that they can understand the hidden / amortized costs. This employee has already had some pushback on why his focus is not consistent with the needs of the business, and isn’t able to include it into his next focus, so it’s not the best solution.

      From my experience (OCD diagnosed and medicated):
      1) This actually reinforces his anxiety, saying that it’s worthwhile to spend time looking at this kind of analysis.
      2) Analysis costs time, and OP doesn’t want him spending his time on stuff like this. OP needs him to stop overthinking it and move on.
      3) It’s easy to discount people’s time when they’re salaried – they can just spend a little more time and it doesn’t cost the company any more money. It won’t switch the anxiety to c0worker’s salaries, it will switch it to their work ethic / ‘why aren’t they willing to do this little bit of work to save the money?!’

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, in my experience with someone who has this kind of anxiety, trying to talk them out of it using rational arguments just gives their concern legitimacy and makes it worse.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Yes absolutely. At this point, this problem is not “my employee doesn’t understand the logic behind my requests” and more “my employee’s anxiety is undermining his work and he isn’t addressing it.” I like Allison’s suggestions for having that conversation.

      2. TootsNYC*

        From my experience (OCD diagnosed and medicated):
        1) This actually reinforces his anxiety,

        my son was diagnosed w/ OCD, and the reading I did in the early months indicated this.

        You don’t reason with anxiety–you shut it down. “Talking Back to OCD” is one of the more powerful strategies.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          This was one of the most challenging things when my husband was diagnosed with OCD. All the “rational” things like explaining to him that he wasn’t going to end up getting fired because his major work task took 10% longer than usual that week didn’t help, and they just reinforced the cycle of obsessive thoughts. At several points I had to outright ban certain topics of conversation, and I even had to say at one point that he needed to stop watching the news because he would get so caught up in anxiety/OCD cycles.

      3. Joielle*

        Same here! I have (diagnosed, medicated) anxiety that can present similarly to the OP’s employee. Sometimes I have to just tell my brain “STFU, brain, you’re being ridiculous.” Of course, OP can’t say that to the employee, exactly, but… maybe in a nicer way. The brain is wrong! Don’t reward the brain!

      4. Karo*

        re: talking it through reinforcing his anxiety – I think that really varies by person. I’m also diagnosed with/medicated for anxiety, and am going through Cognitive Behavior Therapy. One of the major points of CBT is basically laying out to yourself why what you’re worried about isn’t actually something to worry about. It certainly doesn’t always help me (especially when I know I’m being irrational) but when I can ID a negative thought and work through it, it helps an unbelievable amount.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I agree it’s not true for everyone – mental health is complex and variable. But for the behaviors OP’s described, I think it’s accurate.

    7. Ammonite*

      Recognizing the issues with other people’s salaries, I’ve seen this strategy be effective in the opposite direction, where a boss won’t let an employee spend money on something that would be time saving.

      We often have boxed lunches for events with 20ish people. It’s feasible to have an employee pick up this quantity of lunches themselves, but it takes more than an hour of their time and the delivery fee for the lunches is just $10. Previously, the fee was rejected because it wasn’t accounted for in the budgeting for the events. The employee responsible for the lunches pointed out to the boss that her hourly rate comes to more than twice that amount and if they’re figuring delivery into the budget, they should figure her rate as well (slightly weird logic, but bear with me). Voila, the delivery fee gets approved, now and forever!

      In the case from the letter, could OP give the guy a sense of overall budgets for things and assure him that as long as the number he comes up with is in the budget, it’s fine? This could help give him a sense of control and a concrete idea of how much is ok to spend. i.e. “We need to buy new email software with these features. We can spend up to $X on this. As long as the program you find is under $X and has the required features, the cost isn’t an issue.”

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        That works when the cost focus is due to inexperience. It won’t work in this case, where OP’s explained the budget or hidden costs, and the employee just can’t fit them into his mental model.

  9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This would murder my soul. I’m all about the affordable options and will research for them but that’s literally my job being the person who actually handles the money. Since it’s only 15% of his duties, I’d figure out a way to remove them if at all possible and if it’s not possible, he needs to get it under control or be removed entirely from the company given the waste of time it’s turning into.

    The research phase is for estimates. And also a lot of times the higher expense is due to the quality. There are things we buy the most basic thing for and there are things we pay the top dollar for. Argh.

    1. Classic Rando*

      I’m a pretty frugal person, and this would exhaust me too. As Captain Awkward says, sometimes the cheapest way to pay for something is with money. When I bought my house in fall 2017, we opted to keep using the same landscapers to mow the lawn as the previous owner since the summer was over and there were only a few mows left that year. They’re so convenient, and get it done so quickly that we’ve kept using them over the past two summers, even though originally we planned on doing it ourselves. For $115 we save ourselves something like 6+ hours of labor in the yard per month. That’s huge for us, but a lot of people hear that we use landscapers and balk at the perceived cost, not considering how valuable our time is to us, or what the cost of owning and maintaining our own mower and trimmer would be.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        I’m extremely frugal, too. I save things for recycling — and then use them, plan things around them — to an extent that astounds even other frugal people. I also am one of those who wants value out of what I get…I consistently had a huge problem with my now-ex over everything implied in “penny wise and pound foolish”. (Otoh, he understood me well enough to get me a bumper sticker that read “COMPOST: A Rind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste”.)

        This would drive me around the bend to the point where I probably would have taken the researching and invoices away from this person after the second episode.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s the thing, we all value different things as well. If you really loved gardening and landscaping like some folks say they do, then it would be worth the 6 hours of time but if it’s not on your joyful joy list, it can be utter torture and a time suck.

        I just bought a plane ticket to visit my parents. I usually drive but it’s 10hrs roundtrip that way depending on traffic. It’s about $100 in gas plus the wear and tear on the car, plus you always have to stop and get snacks. Sure, I can do it and I have and I don’t hate it but it really cuts into my enjoyment in the end also my overall time spent with my folks. So I found out I can cut it into a 2hr plane trip for $150.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Right! I spent time fixing a pot lid with a broken handle (had to go buy the bolts and nuts, etc.), and I felt like I’d conquered something.

          other people would say, “it’s $12! get a new one; you spent more than that walking to the Home Depot!”

        2. Classic Rando*

          Amusingly, I just did a major overhaul (involving masonry!) to the area for my vegetable garden, and the initial work for that was many hours of my time, but now it’s like 20 min a day. It’s just the mowing and weed-whacking we can’t be bothered with. :)

          I have a similar rule for flying, generally if it takes more than 4-5 hours one way I’ll fly instead, as that’s about when the time savings of dealing with all the airport stuff kicks in.

          Also my parents used to drive to all family vacations, so I know the unique discomfort of driving five people from Connecticut to Dallas with only one hotel stop at the end of day 2. Do not recommend.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            My mother loves mowing, it’s her “relaxing” time. But she has a riding mower and cuts cookies when the feeling strikes her, lol so there’s that as well.

            We drove everywhere as a family too. Thankfully it wasn’t so gnarly though, we always stopped over after about 8 hours or so of driving, my dad wasn’t that much of a savage. However he did require us to stay in some beat down gross budget hotels…

            He has said and I quote “Yeah, Becky is fancy. She likes Best Western and grew up to be too good for Motel 6.” “Yeah I did, I try to find the least stabby areas possible too, look at me, all classy and sh*t, dad!” [We stayed in a hotel where the clerk had bars in front of them and a baseball bat behind the counter in full view…yeah dad, I’m sorry for breaking that tradition.]

          2. CatMintCat*

            Cost savings on flying don’t kick in until much further than that here. If I drive to our nearest big city (6 hours, more or less) it costs me about $150 in fuel and I end up exactly where I want to be. To fly would be between $200 and $500 each way (depending on factors I have no understanding of, it seems random) and I land in a part of the city where it would likely cost me a minimum of $30 in transport to get to where I actually need to be. Even factoring in time, it’s so not worth it.

        3. Bee*

          Yeah, I was going from NYC to Pittsburgh for a conference a couple years ago and just assumed I’d take the train – until I discovered that it’s 12-hour train journey involving multiple changes and dozens of stops that still costs $150. The flight was 90 minutes and $180. I made that decision in SECONDS, even though I generally prefer trains. But I also knew people who went the other way!

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Argh, yeah if it was just a matter of not wanting to drive, I could take the bus and pay $80. The good thing is they have a bus route that doesn’t stop everywhere, since it’s meant to be speedy between the major I5 destinations but L-O-L no. Never. Ever. I’ll drive myself or I’ll fly, at least driving myself, I can throw in the towel and go jump in a lake if I really wanted to.

          2. Ralkana*

            This reminds me of when my mom & I flew to Hawaii. The travel agent originally quoted us a flight that went from LAX to Phoenix, and then to Honolulu. When we asked if there was a direct flight, she said, “Oh yes, but it’s more expensive!” Thinking it might be worth the extra $ for less time and hassle, we asked how much the difference was. $13 more per ticket. The nonstop flight was absolutely worth it.

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

              Wow, that is not a good travel agent! I have similar arguments with my (quite wealthy) sister. She’ll text me to say she saw cheap flights for me to come to the US, but on investigation the route would involve so many changes and layovers that a 10 hour journey becomes two days. Not worth it even if it is half the price. I’ll just go when I intend to and pay normal price.

          3. londonedit*

            Train tickets are quite expensive here, and I’ve had people raise their eyebrows when I say I get the train to visit my parents. ‘Oh, but it’s so expensive! Why don’t you get the bus? You can get bus tickets for £15! So cheap! Why don’t you do that instead of spending £80 on the train?’

            Well, the train takes 1hr 45 minutes, it’s generally on time, the station is convenient for where I live and work, and I can sit back and relax and have the middle-class British staple G&T in a can on the journey. The bus might be cheaper, but traffic is often terrible at the times of day I need to travel, the journey can take up to 3-4 hours, the bus station I’d have to go to isn’t as convenient, and I get carsick if I read anything in a car or on a bus (but not on a train) so I’d be stuck staring out of the window for hours on end. For me, the train is a no-brainer! I’d rather throw money at it and be more comfortable, rather than making my life difficult (and reducing the amount of time I have to spend with my family on what’s already a short weekend visit) just to save a bit of cash.

        4. Liz*

          This is me driving to the airport and parking vs. taking a car service. I live near a major metro airport. Traffic is a nightmare, and the cheaper parking is off site, and taking a shuttle. I hate it so much that lately I’ve been shelling out $150 for both there and back, vs. paying maybe $85-100 to drive my car and pay to park. i save time and more importantly, my sanity. they drop me off at departures, i get out, go in, and bam, there i am. when i land, i call and they tell me which door they’re near, and i get in.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Yep! That’s why we have people Uber to the airport for flights, ef the costs of parking plus the whole “Pay us a billion dollars to park and BTW if your car is broken into, not our problem!” It’s safer in my parking spot with my trustworthy neighborhood that isn’t regularly cased like an airport parking structure.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Oh so much this. My husband has a bit of the tightwad in him, feels bad paying for services we can do ourselves. We were both getting tired of mowing our new house’s big lawn.
          And I realized that I could just buy the ride-on mower I’ve wanted since I was a kid, when the next door neighbor had one. He gets us to do the work ourselves…and I get to ride around on a power mower.

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        YES. My household, as a collective, has decided that we would rather [spend $75 every 2-3 weeks to have someone come and deep-clean bathrooms and kitchen and do the floors] than [pester people until they do their assigned chores (me) or do their assigned chores in a timely fashion (them)]. Much much more peaceful in the house since then.

        (Me: “I’m going to start charging you all the cost of a house cleaner to come take care of this stuff that you’re supposed to do and don’t. I’m sick of having to remind everyone all the time.”
        Husband: “Okay, that’s fine.”
        Housemate 1: “Sounds good to me.”
        Housemate 2: “I’m down. Did I mention that my mom owns a housecleaning business?”
        Me: “…. phone number please.”)

        1. UKDancer*

          My quality of life improved immesurably when I could afford to get a cleaner. While I could do the cleaning myself, I am happy to pay someone else to do it for me. My quality of life is significantly improved by not having to do it and I have more leisure time at the weekend as a result of not having to spend time on domestic chores. Also the cleaner does a significantly better job making the bathroom shine than I ever did.

        2. Parenthetically*

          I LONG for the day when we can afford a cleaner, and may it come quickly, O Lord! We had a lady come weekly when I was in middle and high school and gosh it was so wonderful. Our house was immaculate 95% of the time. I want someone to do a big research project on how much cleaner houses stay when they hire an occasional cleaning service because of the efforts of the people in the household. “Picking up for the cleaning lady” has to be a documented phenomenon.

        3. londonedit*

          I would LOVE to be able to afford a cleaner. Even someone to come in once every couple of weeks and do a deep clean of the bits I really hate, like the bathroom and the kitchen and all the fiddly bits of dusting.

  10. Commentor*

    My ED is JUST like this and it is maddening to have someone in charge that is literally concerned about the cost of plastic versus paper cups.

  11. Quinalla*

    Alison’s advice is spot on! I’ve seen folks struggle with this a bit especially when starting their careers, but you’ve given all the right information, they really do need to deal with it now!

    If the employee had written in, I’d suggest they sit down and look at the salary cost (time x generic hourly rate) to do something plus the cost of the cheaper option and compare that to the cost of the requested option. If they can look at it that way they might short circuit their anxiety by saying wait, it’s not $100 vs. $500 it is $1100 ($1000 salary cost + $100) vs. $500 so the $500 makes much more sense and will likely last longer too so lifecycle cost is cheaper as well.

  12. Falling Diphthong*

    Barring moving him to a role where there is no knowledge of finance involved at all.

    Is this possible? If saving you headaches is the goal and you don’t want to fire him, this might do it.

    Cause I agree with Alison–I think his brain weasels have decided to nest in the fear of his employer going out of business through a failure in frugality, and brain weasels don’t care about your logic.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      I have never heard of anxiety referred to as brain weasels, but as someone with anxiety….I like this phrasing a lot. Especially because it makes me think of ‘honey badger don’t give a f*ck’, and I don’t think brain weasels give many f*cks either.

      1. Colorado*

        I’m dying! Honey badger and brain weasels… they are so similar. Honey badger don’t care, honey badger don’t give a shit, it just takes what it wants.. same as anxiety

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Right? It fits so well! No rhyme, no reason, just a brain weasel doin’ it’s weasel-y thang

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I first ran across brain weasels on TheBloggess…or possibly Captain Awkward… but so far the earliest URL I’ve found for it is from 2010 in a post by barbaraannwright. If anyone finds an earlier reference, I’d like to know!

    2. Liz*

      Brain weasels! I am SOOO stealing this!

      he reminds me of my boss sometimes; who, on the rare occasions i had to orders supplies not stocked in our mail room, would question me about why I was ordering so much at one time! As in, I need to burn CDs for something we do quarterly. about 10 each time. I have to put in an order for them which he needs to sign off on. so since i sometimes forget i need some, and because its cheaper to buy in quantity than 25 at a time, i would do that and go for the 100 pk vs the 25. And each time, he’d ask why i needed so many. Um. really? mind you, we barely order anything in my group. those and maybe sleeves for them. that’s it. I think he’s finally over it but it was a long hard journey. he is incapable of looking at the big picture.

    3. Sarah N*

      Yeah, especially since this is only 15% of his job? Obviously if this was, say, 90% of his work and he fundamentally couldn’t do it without constant freaking out, that would be a situation where you’d maybe need to fire him. But if it’s only 15%, that seems more feasible to transition him out of. Or, identify which tasks are wasting the most time and target those for trading them to another colleague — for example, I would imagine that researching options can end up as way more of a rabbit hole for this type of person, versus simply viewing/processing invoices or communicating with suppliers, which the OP could more easily say: “New rule, from now on your job does NOT involve researching options, so there will be zero discussions about that. At the point where you are seeing an invoice or talking to a supplier, the decision has already been made and is final.”

      1. AnonACanada*

        If it’s only 15% of his job, could that be swapped with another employee? He could take some of the other employees work that had nothing to do with money.

      2. Observer*

        It’s important to keep in mind that just because it’s only 15% of his job, it still may not be possible to reassign the task.

        I DO agree that if the OP can do this, they should. But I’m not going to say “just do it.”

        1. OP*

          That’s my current issue – we’re a small company, and taking that 15% off his plate basically means adding it back on to mine (at least until I replace another person, which is a more extended kind of discussion). And I categorically do not have the bandwidth to do that and manage my current responsibilities.

          I’m hoping to juggle another role to do this, but for that I need about 6 months of replacing one person/hiring/training/transition, and in the meantime I just can’t take on those tasks or transition them to someone else, so I do need it to at least mostly work.

    4. Close Bracket*

      “Is this possible? ”

      Oh, yeah. The extent of my money conversations are, “Can I do this?” “Yes/No.” Once or twice I have known the dollar cost of what I was asking for, but normally not.

  13. Carlie*

    It shouldn’t be your job to micromanage this much, but one possibility would be to give him an allowed amount of time. “We need an office chair. You can spend 15 minutes researching them, and then must pick one from what you have found in that time. Any more and it will cost us more in your salary hours than you could save in price.”

    It sounds harsh, but is one of the methods suggested to deal with anxiety and decision paralysis over “which is best” and “how much research time is worth it”. The book “The Paradox of Choice” really lays out not just the opportunity cost of unending research, but also how that doesn’t lead to the best choices.

    1. Observer*

      The problem is then you KNOW that is going to get the cheapest chair, even if it’s not the RIGHT chair.

  14. ellex42*

    I really appreciate the examples of how to shut down someone who is bringing up a subject that has already been gone over, more than once. I’m not even a manager, but I’m often pulled into training new employees, and too often one or another has fixated on some trivial item and asked for explanations over and over again. I do my best to provide at least a brief explanation of the why and how, which generally isn’t actually necessary to do the job. But by the point where I’ve gone over it for the 4th or 5th time, each time trying to find a different way to explain it, and it’s clear that they know what to do, they just don’t understand why it’s done that way (and sometimes “why it’s done that way” is “because someone much, much higher up the rung decided they wanted it that way”…I’m trying to find ways to shut them down without snapping at them.

    1. irene adler*

      What I’m finding interesting in your narrative and with the OP’s narrative, is the number of times explanations are repeated to the ‘asker’. You yourself have “gone over it” 4 or 5 times. That’s too much. I sure would not have the patience to explain something again and again. By the third ‘ask’, I’m going to put it back on them: “Please explain what part of my explanation is giving you trouble.”

      If it is an emotional “I just don’t think the company should spend $xxx on Y and Z items”, then maybe send them off to research company policy or ask someone higher up who sets policy.

      1. ellex42*

        4 or 5 times IS way, way, way too much, and I have put it back on them, and also redirected them to the people above me who have a much more in-depth understanding of the why, and how, and who (which, again, is not really necessary to our job).

        Often they “just” want to know “why we do this”, and “how does this affect/is affected by other departments”, and I’m sitting there saying “we have a crapload of work to get done and knowing all the why’s and wherefore’s is not necessary to get that work done, can you just stop pestering me?” Other times they “just” don’t get it, and can I walk them through it again. (You are taking notes this time…yes? Yes?? What did you do with the notes you took last time?)

        And yet…they keep coming back. At least one of them is clearly trying to push themselves upwards by expanding their knowledge, and has been from their second week. It’s not making them look good.

        This is partly my own fault for being willing to answer questions and help coworkers, and I’m trying to push back on that. Alison has given some good answers to other people who have found themselves in the position of inadvertantly becoming the “human database” in their office. I’ve just never met coworkers who were so persistent about not taking “I can’t help you/I’m not reviewing this *again*” for an answer.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Honestly, sometimes I’ve gotten good results saying “Emperor Palpatine specifically instructed us to use red tiddleywinks. I have no choice in the matter.” Sometimes I’ve had to follow it up with “I am following corporate guidelines. If you want to contact him or his assistant Darth Vader, you can choose to do so.”
          (I’ve never had to deal with illegal instructions thank goodness…just ones that are arbitrary or make a bit extra work for the lower level employees.)

    2. Joielle*

      I get this with interns sometimes. There’s a particular task that I often have interns help me with, and it’s not difficult but it’s tedious and time sensitive and the instructions have to be followed very specifically. I do give them an overview at the beginning of where that work generally fits in to the whole scheme of things, but there’s usually not time to go into great detail about the entire process, or why things are the way they are (and like you said, elle, it’s basically “because I had to make a more-or-less arbitrary decision and that’s what I decided” so not a satisfying explanation anyways).

      I do try to be patient but at some point, they need to just do the work they’re assigned and I sometimes have to explain that more bluntly than I’d prefer. It’s the same with new employees – they need to take your instructions at face value and just do the work, and once they have done it a few times (or more) they might have the standing and clout to question it.

      1. ellex42*

        My “blunt” often comes across as “mean” whether I intend it to or not, so I’m at the point where I’m answering almost everything with “I don’t know” whether I actually know it or not, and even if I’ve answered it for that person previously or not. I have my boss’s blessing to do it, because they’re fed up with telling these coworkers to stop pestering me!

  15. Jennifer*

    If he is good at the rest of his job and this is just 15% of it, can he swap duties with someone else so he doesn’t have to deal with finances at all? For example, if you have another employee who spends 15% of their time on the TPS reports, can you give this employee the TPS reports and the other the finance-related stuff? I think that would be the simplest solution. That way if it is anxiety-related you don’t have to worry about the ADA stuff and he doesn’t have to move into an entirely new role.

  16. hiptobesquared*

    As someone who is confident she drove her current boss nuts after moving from higher ed where I personally provided my own snacks at training sessions I offered…

    This guy sounds exhausting. Obviously you cannot comment on his anxiety, but maybe suggesting he takes a moment to regroup if he is spiraling, take a walk, etc. He isn’t useful in that state, anyway!

  17. Psyche*

    You cannot manage his anxiety for him. Since you already explained why the budget makes sense, it might help to reframe. Explicitly tell him that it is not his job to manage the budget. That is your job and he needs to trust you to do your job rather than trying to do it for you. His job is to present you the options and then follow through on the option you chose.

    1. Cranky Neighbot*

      100% agreed, as someone with severe (treated) anxiety. I love Alison’s advice here because, although she says it may be brusque, it is very clear about what he needs to do and involves no emotional hand-holding. His feelings aren’t really relevant to the budget.

      Referring him to an EAP and/or mentioning any ability you have to accommodate appointments are good things to do, should he raise the issue of anxiety again, like Alison has said. However, you cannot manage his feelings. (Even if you wanted to, you aren’t equipped for that.)

  18. Close Bracket*

    even when pointed to the original discussion, doesn’t relate it to his behavior

    I would add this in to Alison’s scripts.

    “We’ve talked about this previously. The discussion you are having about money right now is an example of what I asked you not to do. It’s disruptive.”

    I almost wrote “the anxiety you are showing right now,” but noooooo, don’t label your direct reports emotions for them (even if you are pretty sure you are right based on previous conversations where he labelled a condition himself).

    1. the_scientist*

      I think this is really, really good. You may need to drive home the connection between his current behaviour every time he has a new cost-related meltdown and the ongoing pattern of behaviour you’ve asked him to stop. Its seems like he hasn’t made that connection independently yet.

      As someone with anxiety, my feelings are that it’s not your job as his boss to manage his anxiety. It’s great that you are considering ways to make things easier for him, but he still needs to do his job. Continue to shut him down and bring up the pattern of behaviour every single time!

      1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        I agree. It’s sometimes difficult to see by yourself, so it can be very helpful to hear that “this thing that you’re doing right now is the thing I meant when I told you to stop XYZ”. You can’t change if you don’t know what exactly you need to change, but when you make the connection, you can start noticing on your own when you are doing that thing again.

  19. Washi*

    So I have anxiety, and am also surprised that the ADA could be in play here. This is harsh, but I feel like it’s the employee’s responsibility to know his triggers and if finances are one of them, not take a job that is 15% money-related. I can’t imagine asking someone to work around my triggers to such a large extent.

    1. NothingIsLittle*

      I’m also surprised, considering OP said the employee refuses to get treatment and it sounds like hasn’t revealed a diagnosed condition. I’m pretty sure he can’t receive accommodations for a disability he hasn’t been diagnosed with. Also, even if he has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, this sounds like it would be considered an essential job function, for which he could receive accommodations, but which he would still need to be able to perform.

      It’s one thing for the employee to say, “this makes me anxious,” and another for him to say, “I have an anxiety disorder that this triggers and here are some reasonable accommodations that would make this part of my job possible.” It would still be worth checking with HR or the company’s legal team, but OP should clarify that the employee hasn’t disclosed a protected condition if he indeed hasn’t, since that will probably have bearing on their response.

      1. remizidae*

        He might need to get a diagnosis to *prove* that he has a disability if he goes down the path of requesting reasonable accommodation (which of course he hasn’t). But the disability can exist without a diagnosis. After all, if I break my arm, the arm is broken before I go to the doctor.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The ADA doesn’t require an official diagnosis. If the employer perceives the employees as having a disability, that’s sufficient. (That still doesn’t mean this particular situation would rise to the level of ADA coverage if it were in the U.S., which the OP has noted it’s not.) It’s also not clear that this would be considered an essential job function if it’s only a small piece of the job. It might be! It’s just not clear from the info we have.

        1. NothingIsLittle*

          Thanks for clarifying! I was writing my post before OP mentioned it wasn’t occuring in the US, which definitely changes the specifics of the answer.

          If the employer can perceive the employee to have a disability, does that mean they could provide accommodations without the employee’s input? I have a physical disability that I don’t need accommodations for because it doesn’t impact my job, but I’ve revealed it to my employer. I wouldn’t be happy to know they were changing how my job is handled without consulting me. (I should probably be researching this seriously, and may need to do so in the near future.)

        2. OP*


          Where we are, protections are significantly more stringent than what the ADA provides. Literally: alcoholism needs to be considered a handicap requiring accomodations (I’m not joking, there was a court case). So once the word ‘anxiety’ actually comes up, we basically just treat it as requiring accomodations and go from there.

    2. Danish*

      I think to this employee he doesn’t see it as “asking someone to work around his triggers” because that’s usually someone who has acknowledge that Anxiety is a Medical Issue that Needs Taken Seriously might do. If he knows he has ‘anxiety’ but doesn’t want to seek treatment it could be because he doesn’t really see it as that big of a problem.

      Saying, “sorry, I have anxiety that is triggered by this kind of thing, can you please do x and y to help me manage it” can be reasonable, though sometimes not so much at work, but to me that implies that you know it’s an Anxiety and not actually A Real Issue That You Are Right To Be This Worked Up About, and he clearly still thinks he’s right about these things.

  20. Angwyshaunce*

    If you disregard the (seemingly positive) intent, what you’re left with is an employee who simply will not follow instructions. Respond accordingly.

  21. Jerk Store*

    I think the interesting thing here is that, from what I can tell, he’s not even the one making the decision? Like, if the LW wants a plant for the lobby and he researches prices and she picks something mid cost range, it’s on HER to justify if someone higher up thinks it’s too much, not him, correct?

    1. OP*


      And for the most part, I don’t have to justify most things – there’s one person higher than me, and he tends to look over general expenses, ask a question or two, and generally trust that I’ve got it. Which I do.

      … and I do because I’m not spending an extra 3 hours trying to save 50$ on an office chair or letting bedbugs in the building by buying used. Buy the chair, use the chair, get work done, make money, go home, y’know?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’d missed the bit about used furniture. It sounds like you’re well beyond the startup stage when it’s worth risking the possible short lifespan (and possible insurance liability if something breaks) to save precious venture capital.

  22. Sara without an H*

    About 15% of his job involves either researching options/solutions to issues we are having (for example: find me an email system that can do the following four things, or find me companies that sell this specific thing and book me demos), or interfacing with external suppliers (and therefore seeing the invoices go by).

    Can you trust the options/solutions he’s giving you? Given the intensity of the anxiety you describe, I’d be worried that he was limiting the options to low-cost solutions that wouldn’t necessarily do the job.

    1. Observer*

      I was coming to say that.

      OP, you need to be very careful in evaluating his suggestions and conclusions.

      For instance “find me an email system that can do the following four things.” He’s likely to find you something that BARELY does what you need, and causes all sorts of other problems because he’s so fixated on cost. Especially if it’s something that SHOULD be a baseline expectation so you didn’t think you needed to specify it. Like perhaps he decides to go with American mail host that hasn’t provided a good plan for GDPR compliance (assuming you are in Europe). I could see that you might not mention that because, why would you – it should be obvious. And you want group email boxes and he finds you a system that only does distribution groups because that “almost the same”. etc.

  23. NothingIsLittle*

    I just wanted to say that I have (kind of) been the employee before. The first time I was told to order catering I freaked out because the full cost was something like $500 and I’d never spent that kind of money on anything short of an apartment and spending that on lunch seemed ridiculous. I had no idea what I was doing, so I sent a full list of the options and their prices and let my supervisor pick because I could not bring myself to make decisions with that kind of money behind them at work (of course, now I’ve handled catering with costs exceeding $1,000 and that’s been my new “Lord give me strength, I don’t think I can press the order button”). I’ve gotten over it, because I know we have the budget for it and I know it’s what my boss wants, but seeing hundreds of dollars get spent in one go is very hard for me (in part because I was living on a very tight, only-just-enough-money-for-food budget at the time, but even now it’s hard to spend the equivalent of my rent in one go).

    OP, if your employee hasn’t gotten over it at this point, even after your being explicitly clear what his expectations are, and he refuses to seek any solutions for his anxiety, then you’d be doing both of you a kindness to get him out of a situation where he’s obligated to spend money in sums that cause him stress. He can’t adequately perform the required tasks of his job, so either his responsibilities or his position need to change so that he’s not essentially failing at 15% of his job.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      *raises hand* I was also this employee. I went from being a gov’t employee to being in private sector, and from being nitpicked for not getting the cheapest pencils to told to get whatever I wanted. My boss (who, bless his heart, realized what was going on) popped into my office to try his hardest not to laugh when he told me to go ahead and order the better pencils, because it’s *okay* to order something that works better for longer even if it’s for more money. I don’t need to look up 5 different kinds of pencils or to justify it….it’s pencils, EC.

      And then we had to order new office chairs and good lord office chairs are expensive!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I was wondering about this. Maybe the OP’s report has been in a job where his boss micromanaged him to death over budgeting in some way. If you’re already anxious, this could really exacerbate it. OldExJob was kind of like that for me. Soooo many triggers — not financial, in my case, but still.

      2. NothingIsLittle*

        Haha, I recently made a joke that “well, coworker gets a fancy wireless headset for conference calls, when am I getting mine?” and my boss was like, “oh, do you need one? I can add it to the next order.” Didn’t ask for any justification and was ready to order one, even though I said I was joking and really didn’t need it. Such a change from government work where we had to borrow equipment from other departments and sometimes had multiple departments scheduled for the same machines.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          When I started at this private company I admired the multicolored highlighter set of one of my coworkers. Our very lovely office supply orders person overheard and the next week I had a set on my desk.

          When I was county gov’t, I wanted to replace my singular yellow highlighter that was smearing and dying, and got such a huge amount of pushback that I gave up and purchased my own.

          It’s a *highlighter*, ffs. The one I asked for was like $1. The set that the office supply fairy left on my desk was easily like a $20 set. And then they asked if I wanted the matching Sharpie set. (The answer to that is always yes. I love me some file & note color-coding.)

          1. uh*

            I had to buy my own stapler in my first job at mega corp. . . . They wanted us to share or use paper clips.

      3. Brett*

        Our local tv stations have special gotcha journalism segments just for local government spending.
        They used to literally ambush government employees in their offices with cameras (and not just elected officials and managers, but actual frontline rank-and-file employees) over the cost of travel, furniture, and vehicles. This made everyone incredibly gunshy about anything that looked even the slightest bit extravagant.

        Fortunately, about 5 years ago, one of the main reporters for these segments got production control of the segments. He completely revamped them to focus on top-level salaries and under-delivered services with scheduled interviews with elected officials. He went from being dreaded by rank-and-file government employees to being loved by them. But the cumulative trauma from that 15+ years of gotcha journalism still clearly persists among local government employees here and they are all still extremely wary of just going to a local conference for day.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          Our salaries were all published in the local newspaper, and since we were a small county with little to no exciting news, I had some very vocal contractors call up the local news outlet to tell them allllllll about how much EC makes and EC’s coworkers make and WE PAY THEM TOO MUCH FOR THIS LONG OF PERMIT PROCESSING!1!!!11! Our annual budget report also got publicly published. That was fun when we purchased….wait for it….. new sliding windows for the front reception desks. Because ours couldn’t slide anymore. *facepalm*

          So yes, you learn to be very twitchy about spending… because people get real weird about money, and can get very, very vocal.

          Hell, I was recently sent some goodies from a vendor of ours, and I turned in the box to my boss without thinking. The vendor only communicates with me, no one else at the company. But in gov’t, that’s bribery. In private sector, that’s just a vendor gift. (Boss chuckled at me, and stole the can cozy. I kept a really nice mug, and gave the hat to a coworker.)

          1. Brett*

            Ugh, yeah, vendor gift rules in government can really suck. I once had to turn down a five figure prize when a startup hackathon team I was on unexpectedly won a big hackathon. I couldn’t get ahold of the ethics office in time to determine if I could accept the prize and had to turn it down (two weeks later they told me it was okay). I just stopped entering contests after that. The hackathon sponsors eventually decided to have a separate “no prize money” track so government employees could at least compete for the prestige of winning.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          Oof, ambushing frontline employees, who likely have no control over those decisions? Wow. Kudos to that reporter for going after the real issues!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      As a financial person, my best advice on this sticker-shock that you are prone to, you realize that the ratios are different.

      $500 out of a corporate account is the same as $5 out of your pocket. You’re spending money out of accounts that have millions with them.

      Which then in turn makes it a hard pill to swallow knowing how little your paycheck is in that sense but again, ratios are my point.

      But my first job at 19 involved wiring tens of thousands of dollars each week and I still remember how my first “salary” goal I set for myself was “$3000 a month” and how $36,000 a year seemed like a killing. But again, I was 19 and making $9 an hour.

      1. Nessun*

        Numbers at the amounts a big corporation functions at cease to mean anything after a while. I once wrote an invoice to a client for over a quarter million dollars and couldn’t wrap my head around it, but for the client, it was just “huh, the bill’s here, get that paid wouldya”. I stopped all comparisons completely when I started doing my boss’s expense reports and realized with his credit limit (or his expense account) he could literally just expense ME if he had to…my whole salary would fit on one line without even a blip. And TPTB just say it’s the cost of doing business and move on. Boggles ya if you stop to think.

  24. Heidi*

    It’s too bad that the employee is refusing to seek treatment for anxiety. If anxiety is driving his cost-consciousness, changing this one specific thought/behavior pattern is a workable therapy goal. I once heard a therapist give a presentation that opened with, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.” I hate to be pessimistic, but the OP should probably be prepared to enforce the consequences of this behavior continuing.

    1. Celeste*

      I have extensive experience in working with people who consider behaviors like this A VIRTUE. Good luck getting them to change their ways. All you will do is invite them to double down because they believe their way is the One True Way.

      I am firmly on the side of the OP’s comment that the person will need to be relieved of budgetary duty and then be subject to the consequence of less mobility. I think that’s correct.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. I worry this guy will eventually be making people take 3 flights instead of nonstop like the letter from week or so ago.

  25. Rabbit*

    How exactly is he presenting these options? Asking because it has an impact on how easy it might be to short circuit or sidestep these conversations, or if his duties need to change/he needs to be removed (fired/reshuffled)

    1. He is asked to look into new Llama Management Software – he comes back with a proposal for the most basic/ barebones/ hairshirt option. When you look into it further it turns out that there are other options which might have a higher sticker price but will save time or offer better features. This is probably the worst in terms oh how much effort it requires of you and how much effort you would have to invest to change his mindset – it might be easier to reassign duties.

    2. He is presenting several options with pros and cons and failing to include or properly weight factors other than cost. It might be possible to improve this if he is willing but judging by the conversations you describe it seems like that might not be realistic.

    3. He presents all the options with a reasonable evaluation of cost/ time/ features, but freaks out when the nominally more expensive option is chosen. In this case it might be possible to just ignore him/cut him short.

      1. Rabbit*

        I really like this question because I have recently started a new role with a company whose entire business is helping others make smarter purchasing decisions – and even then one of they emphasise that:

        -It isn’t just about cost
        -Even if cost is the biggest factor you need to look at the whole package, not just the immediate price
        -Below a certain threshold it just isn’t worth worrying about/spending time on

    1. OP*

      What he does:
      – When actually involved in the decision: option 2 (maybe 30% of the issue)
      – When he is not involved (ex: he is involved in a particular project, and sees an invoice from the supplier to me for a cost we’re going to incur): panic about cost, discusses cheaper options (‘but an off-brand charger with 2-star ratings from Amazon is 10$ cheaper!’… yeah, but NO.), “this can’t be a competitive cost” (it is), “there have to be other ways of doing this” (there are, they all cost more in time than outsourcing), and, when told that I have made the decision and we are moving on with this, and what I need from him is (coordinate for the installation of the equipment, say), he’ll give a reluctant ok and bring it up at least 3-4 more times in the next 2 days. That’s about 70% of the events.

      I’m so done.

      1. Vax is my disaster bicon*

        In those 70% cases, would it be possible to go straight to “this is not up for discussion” on repeat? The less you engage him, the fewer chances he has to get deeper into his anxiety spiral.

        1. Psyche*

          Yeah. It sounds like he needs a “stay in your lane” conversation that basically says if he was not invited into the decision making process, he needs to not talk about the cost at all because the decision has been made so all he is doing is wasting everyone’s time (and therefore he is wasting money).

      2. K*

        If he brings it up 3-4 more times (!) after being told the decision was final, he’s being insubordinate, and should be treated as such.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Seriously, you need to tug either take this task away from him if it’s reasonable or fire him. He’s costing you more than just his wasted labor, it’s costing you your own frigging sanity here and that’s not good. You say there’s only one person above you and it’s a 20 person company, THIS DUDE IS DEAD WEIGHT, CUT HIM LOOSE!!!! You will never ever change him. You’re too kind.

      4. Close Bracket*

        “Fergus. What you are doing right now is the Sam Vimes thing we talked about. I’ve told you not to do that anymore.”

      5. Parenthetically*

        Yeah okay wow wow wow that’s fully bananas.

        he’ll give a reluctant ok WHAT. NO. Stay in your lane, Fergus McFrugalworry. “Fergus, these decisions rest with me/Bob in accounting/Susan in acquisitions, and they don’t require your stamp of approval. We are competent adults who understand the rules and regulations, have fully researched what’s necessary, and concluded that these purchases are the best value for money. They are completely in line with our budget and our needs as a company. I need to ask you not to continue to question our decision making about finances. Can you agree to do that?”

        and bring it up at least 3-4 more times in the next two days !!!! This is… borderline insubordination. “Fergus, this is what I was talking about yesterday. I need you to stop second-guessing these financial decisions.” and then “Fergus, please stop bringing this up.”

  26. SheLooksFamiliar*

    A long-ago Facilities Manager was a penny-pincher, too. There was nothing he couldn’t tinker with to get it running again. There was no need for luxuries like real coffee creamer in the lunch room when powdered was cheaper. You get the idea. He was a high school friend of the CEO/founder, and we tried to ignore him.

    One day a major customer was on-site for a new product demo. The customer team was escorted into the main conference room for a breakfast of bagels and coffee, and there was the FM with his wife -?! – ready to serve breakfast. The FM took a grocery store bagel from the single bag on the table and carefully split it in half. He gave one half to his wife, who smeared a thin layer of cream cheese from a grocery store brand block. She then gave the bagel on a paper towel to the guest. There was one cup of water on the conference table, for each scheduled visitor. The FM had decided there was no need to serve coffee, because anyone going to an early meeting would naturally get their own on the way. Once everyone had their half-bagel, the FM and his wife quickly wrapped up the remains and left the room.

    The CEO had a word with his old friend later that day. Things didn’t change much, except for when we had customer visits.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m crying inside. He just brought his wife in to help him out too, that makes it even better to be honest.

      “Honey, come with me to ration out the bagels and cream cheese!”

      Bagels and water, what a fantastic way to schmooze with clients.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      BTW I hope they went to the discount Bread Store and got the day-old bagels too =X

    3. AKchic*

      Oh. My. Gawds. Major, minor, and in between. I cannot imagine the horror and embarrassment the CEO went through with that meeting, or the confusion of any of the guests.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I so wish I had been in the conference room, I only saw FM and Mrs. FM setting up their meager offerings. The Dr. of Product Management told me how it all happened, and said the customer team was nice but clearly taken aback. He took them for a lavish lunch afterward, can’t remember if we got their business. The CEO was embarrassed and very irritated – the FM had never done anything like this before, and we never did hear why he decided to do it that morning. He did the low-crawl for a while after his ‘little chat’ with the CEO.

        Becky, the Dr. guessed the bagels came straight out of the FM’s freezer at home, and that he submitted an expense report for it. I don’t doubt it!

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            No toasting, the FM banned ‘home appliances’ due to local fire codes.

            True story: I brought in a small coffee maker for my office so I could serve candidates a hot cup, instead of using the lunch room coffee vending machine – 15 cents a cup and it tasted like it. The FM complained to the CEO, who kicked it down to my boss, the VP of HR. Boss told me to just hide the coffee maker every evening before I left, so FM wouldn’t see it on my credenza. Problem solved.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


          YEEEEEEEEEEEASSSSSSSSSSSSS if they came out of his freezer, even better on the scale of Extreme Cheapskates!

          I once had someone offer to make a potato salad for our BBQ, the budget was tight so the company was just doing burgers and some chips. Not bad, still a meal, you know? But it was cool that a couple people decided on their own to make a side dish, we were all grateful and thanked them etc. I got an expense report for potatoes not long afterwards. I giggled about it but was like “Okay whatever” and paid it, I could have Guacamole Bob’ed so hard because we had you know, the frugal budget for a very good reason but in the end the reimbursement was $7 and I’m not going to die on that hill when it’s a coworker, ever. Now if it was a vendor screwing with that surprise $7, I’ll take up my sword :P

    4. Liz*

      All I can say is if i were a client and there was NO coffee, even if i had gotten my own on my way in, i wouldn’t have been too impressed :)

  27. Cartographical*

    I have some similar issues, though not to this extent thanks to therapy, and I get around it with the “time is money/productivity is money” analogy. It is possible to break the thinking pattern. I’ve been managing and overcoming anxiety and PTSD for most of my adult life, generally with success.

    However, this research/purchasing sounds like a role this person should not be in right now — triggering anxiety and forcing suppression without therapeutic guidance is not only retraumatizing, it’s creating a new layer of meta-anxiety (anxiety around the process, the anxiety of having an anxious reaction, etc.). This person isn’t just anxious or stressed, they’re full on debilitated here — unable to moderate their reaction or come up with a solution at all — which is serious.

    Exposure therapy without guidance is one of the worst possible tactics for treating anxiety and, while working with someone who’s working through an issue is kind, this sounds like the equivalent of hitting a guy in the head with a hammer to alleviate a headache — the only way to get rid of the headache that way is going to make a bigger mess that ends well for no-one.

    1. OP*

      2 caveats:
      – The triggers include being witness to costs that are communicated between 2 other people – as in, he doesn’t need to be making the decision for it to be an issue. That’s a bit limiting, in terms of jobs he can do.
      – I agree with you, but also I’m pretty sure I can’t legally tell him that he should be doing another job for the sake of his own mental health, and I can’t make him seek therapy. If you were willing to tell him this directly, I’d cheer you on, but the amount of influence I have on that is extremely limited (as it should be – I certainly wouldn’t want the person signing my paycheques in charge of my mental health care, either!)

      1. Parenthetically*

        “he doesn’t need to be making the decision for it to be an issue”

        Just repeating that you need to have one last STAY IN YOUR LANE, do NOT bring up other people’s expenses or second-guess them ever again conversation with him and then stop tolerating it. It’s one thing for him to be paralyzed about decisions that are his but it’s SO inappropriate for him to be criticizing and scrutinizing other people’s/departments’ finances!!

      2. nonegiven*

        “If you want to stay employed here, you need to find a way to keep that to yourself!”

  28. Oranges*

    I agree with Alison that logic won’t work in this situation. He’s gonna need to learn how to deal with his anxiety on his own. You can be kind during this period by letting him deal with it. Believe that he can.

  29. drpuma*

    OP I’m curious if you have given the employee “guardrails” or a price range when making the initial assignment, if you think that would help. For example “Find me an email system that does these four things. Based on what we have budgeted now, I assume this will cost between $XXX and $YYY per user.” That could help you set clear expectations for him and also give you an anchor when he’s spiraling: “These price options are all within the range we discussed earlier. That means they’re acceptable for our company and budget, so I need you not to push back on this.”

    1. NothingIsLittle*

      Actually, giving a minimum expected cost to “get the job done properly” might be really helpful. I had these money anxieties when I started making orders on my employer’s behalf and knowing that I’m expected to spend a certain amount really helped me structure my expectations. If you haven’t already and you’re familiar with the typical price range of the task at hand, it may be worth saying, “In order to ensure that X will meet these basic requirements, we expect it to cost no less than $Y. Costing significantly less tells me that it will not meet those basic requirements and is not a viable solution.”

      Of course, I may have had money anxiety, but I did at least do what my boss told me to do, so it’s probably worth trying, but not worth hanging your hat on.

    2. cosmicgorilla*

      Ooh, I was thinking this too. Knowing that the company already plans to spend between one and two kajillion dollars might help level-set when the quote comes back at 1.5 kajillion.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      This does actually have a chance of being helpful, but it takes time on OP’s part and the chance of not being helpful is real. I wouldn’t think badly of OP if they decided they’d spent enough time managing OP’s reactions.

      Again, this kind of thing works best when the price consciousness is due to inexperience.

      1. peachie*

        I’m not sure it would be that much more time-intensive for OP than it already is — it sounds like she has to approve/finalize any choices anyway, so I assume she already has a rough idea of the budget.

    4. peachie*

      I think this is a great idea! I’ve definitely had some sticker shock when researching/purchasing things for work because the scale was just so off from what I could imagine spending personally. For example, getting a coffee/refreshment station in a conference venue can cost easily $100/gallon of coffee, which feels bananas if you’re thinking “that much coffee from Starbucks would cost $15!” — but actually running conferences makes it VERY clear that you’re paying for convenience, not coffee).

  30. Rezia*

    Ooof. Could you try something like, “This has been a recurring problem we’ve talked about many times, either I need you to be proactively working on improving this, or we’re going to have to remove this part of your job”?
    I wonder if that might make the employee either realize what a big problem this is and open up to counseling/ at least keeping his spirals to himself OR having an out to admit he really can’t handle this aspect of the job.

  31. OhBehave*

    I dealt with someone like this at my old non-profit job. She was the head of another dept in charge of supplies, etc. We would be preparing for a huge event and printing a ton. Run out of ink? We will use refillable cartridges. They never worked correctly and would not last. She continually fought against buying printer cartridges. I even bought my own so I could get my work done! A fellow director called it the cost of doing business. It took a director to tell her to stop it! UGH!

    1. Oranges*

      I used to be the person to refill those. Yeah, they NEVER worked right. After we refilled them we did a test on them to make sure they “worked” and we were told to do multiple tests and if ONE of them worked then the cartridge was “fine”,

    2. Sharrbe*

      I remember a short stint at work where we ordered the cheapest, thinnest, toilet paper imaginable. It was so weak that you couldn’t pull one square out without it tearing. So we’d all be wasting work time because we were stuck in the restroom tearing off pieces one by one until we had enough to use. Fortunately, that problem was quickly corrected. Lesson learned.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m that jerk who asks people to shake their cartridges but in the end hand them over the new one when they say they need it. I’m only half a dragon [other part is unicorn, if you ask the right people ;)]

      It reminds me of the fact that someone bought counterfeit BS ink for our postage machine it turns out. It’s not a lie when they say not to do that because it’ll gunk up the machine. I finally ordered the correct one and only then did it “fix” itself. Oh. Cuz let’s waste postage since it’s not ef’ing printing *screams*

      This can often be a power play thing too I’ve learned. Not cool, Nancy.

  32. Lora*

    To be honest before I started working as a manager doing budgets and got access to the corporate finance system, I had NO IDEA how much people’s “billing rates” are – i.e. how the company calculates opex projections, what the company assumes you are “worth” including benefits, by the hour as an FTE hypothetically working 40 hour workweeks. Once I found out, I made sure I took all the comp time and flex time I was entitled to and made sure I tracked how many hours were spent on what projects, because hoooooooly crap your time is worth a LOT of money.

    I also had no idea about margins and what % of working capital is normal for different kinds of investments and how to calculate projected ROI, NPV, etc. It’s not a friggin household budget where you can save $50 on a trip to the grocery store by using coupons and buying store brand and only getting the things on your list and reward yourself with an ice cream on the way home. I feel like people who don’t do the money side of things at all sort of get the impression that money works the same everywhere at every scale, and that is definitely a misconception I’ve seen employers exploit for sort of…psychological purposes more than actual concerns about the business finances.

    Even in higher ed, I get the impression that it’s a scale thing: teeny SLAC in Middle Of Nowhere? Yeah, they can fold due to budget issues (see: Antioch, Hampshire, Green Mountain, etc) but Harvard and MIT definitely have money falling out of their butts.

    1. roses*

      yes, I’m a graduate student at a well-funded private institution and when I travel for work I’m not expected to penny-pinch, which I’m realizing from reading the comments is a big blessing. My supervisor never expects me to share a hotel room, and all meals and incidentals are covered (although alcohol is not), and I’ve never been given a limit on how much to spend per day even, although I guess if I were too extravagant someone might raise a flag.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        When I was state gov’t, natural resources in a very natural resources heavy state, I once had to share a large campground lodge with about 12 people to go to a training conference. This was not part of the conference. It was just the cheapest option around. Best part? Only 2 of the 12 of us were from the same office, and none of the different offices knew each other. And there was one community bathroom. The shower stalls were awful. I think my high school locker room had larger & less gross showers. And this was a 4 day conference (6 days total out). Oh, and meals were not provided. At least they had separate lodges for men & women.

        It was flabbergasting to friends of mine at the time who worked in private sector. But hey, I was very early twenties, it was my first Real Job out of college, and I was just happy to have a paycheck. I didn’t know any better, really, and to very shy Young EC, it wasn’t worth rocking the boat even if I would have considered it abnormal or not okay.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s both due to the fact that people aren’t always involved in the financial side but also because it’s hard to truly grasp the nature of business for a lot of others.

      If I had a dollar for every time someone screams about “I have to pay X amount for this, I know it only costs them like 37 cents to make this!” and I have to explain “cost” and “margins” and “overhead”, their eyes glaze over and it just rewinds right back to corporate greed and awful businesses getting rich off the backs of millions, yadda yadda yadda.

      Just like when I clinch over people thinking X Job is worth SO MUCH MORE but really no, it’s not, there’s a reason for salary caps [some are absurdly low and not to market rate, that’s another issue all together though].

      1. Lora*

        Yeah….recently had to figure out the cost of bringing manufacturing of a starting material in house. Not for cost reasons (China can already make it very cheaply) but for safety reasons (countries that have minimal regulatory requirements == your cheap supplier is now a crater in the ground, literally) and the biggest money thing people struggled with was Soft Costs / Indirects. They understand the notion of paying for concrete and steel for a building, and lighting and plumbing, they understand that equipment costs money, they understand that you have to pay plumbers and electricians and equipment installation people. All the other stuff: construction management, equipment commissioning, architecture firm’s stamped drawings, hourly rates of the lawyers and engineers working with the city to get the building permits, hiring start-up and outreach, insurance, contingency, environmental impact studies, supplemental waste treatment, security guards to guard the construction site, trailers and waste hauling, escalation costs to get people to work extra hours to beat some imaginary deadline, cost of materials storage if they show up ahead of schedule due to traffic or frantically trying to ship before a tariff kicks in… people REALLY struggled with those things. They understand hypothetically that such things exist and will need to be paid for somehow, but eh. As you said, it’s a psychological thing, not logic.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah, as a manufacturing person, I know exactly what you mean about the “hidden” costs.

          Also you have to have a reserve because sh*t happens. You pay 100K for a machine that needs repairs and general maintenance over the course of it’s life. So that’s the point of margin as well, not just to you know, sink into that CEO’s pocket to buy another Jaguar or what have you.

      2. Oranges*

        Learned this lesson getting an AAS in Jewelry (aka goldsmith). A teacher went over why we charge 3x the cost of the materials and our labor. Overhead is amazingly expensive but most people don’t even know about it.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I’ve had a similar argument with people over wanting me to knit them something. Yes, those socks I’m wearing I would charge you $60 for. The yarn alone was $35, and I scaled down that end cost because I didn’t use quite a full skein. And then there’s time, and maybe a pattern to purchase, and if I don’t have the right needles because now you want a different pattern and the gauge is wrong, I’ll need to buy needles…… if I just priced out my *time* on minimum wage, these socks would be over $100.

          1. londonedit*

            There’s a restaurant critic here called Jay Rayner, who writes for the Observer/Guardian newspapers. Every time one of his reviews appears online, he posts a link to an explanatory article he wrote, because people *always* start up with the ‘Waste of money, what a rip-off, don’t know why anyone would go to a restaurant when you could buy the same ingredients for £5 and make it at home’ rubbish. Of course you could, but you wouldn’t get the quality, you wouldn’t get the experience, and you’re not paying professional chefs and waiting staff, overheads, rent, etc etc etc.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            (Side note: BIG SIGH…too bad there’s no way for me to communicate with you off-list because I’m having THAT much trouble with this pair of socks. Two toes no problem…increases made sense to me.
            But the short-row heel has me baffled….)

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Same formula for essentially everything you purchase. 1/3 for labor and 1/3 for margin so that if you have to re-do it because something got screwed up, you’re not losing money.

          I want to plop everyone down and make them watch CNBC’s The Profit to get the feeling for business costs. I start shaking when he reads some of those financial statements or worse, when people don’t even have them available.

      3. Anon for a moment*

        I had to explain this last week to a Partner in our firm…our ACCOUNTING firm. Literally got told we shouldn’t have a line item for the admin costs if we’re not sure if we can bill when the works done (tax authorities don’t accept our reasoning, we get zip). I had to explain that regardless of what we GET, we still SPENT MONEY, so we have to account for it! Buddy, you’re nuts, and you’re an accountant, how, again? The costs don’t equal the revenue on a 1:1 ratio…it’s not a zero sum equation!

    3. Oh So Anon*

      In addition to not really understanding how business finance works, this might also have to do with someone not really having experience dealing with money outside of a paycheck-to-paycheck household scale. It’s kind of like people who don’t understand why a homeowner who takes a $100/month hit on renting out their house until the market recovers might be better off than if they immediately sold their house in a bad market and lost $20K.

  33. ampersand*

    People have mentioned removing the 15 percent of the employee’s budget-related duties as a possible solution—but at what point does it make more sense to approach this as an issue where the employee cannot perform specific functions of the job and therefore isn’t a good fit for the role? Do reasonable accommodations (under ADA) include removing parts of an employee’s responsibilities from their job duties if they can’t perform those duties? I’m not sure where the line is drawn.

    1. Close Bracket*

      “Do reasonable accommodations (under ADA) include removing parts of an employee’s responsibilities from their job duties if they can’t perform those duties?”

      OP isn’t in the US, but I’ll answer from a US perspective (IANAL, but I am someone who has requested reasonable accommodations):

      If the accommodation is to remove a core part of the job, then it is not reasonable. If the disability means the person is unable to perform core job duties (as defined by the employer, and it can be very loose), then reasonable accommodation is not possible. If somebody is bad at something as a direct consequence of a disability and it is a core job duty, the employer can reassign it.

      Everything doesn’t have to be rules lawyered that way, though. Job definitions and core duties can change at the whim of the employer (as long as it’s not punitive or designed to drive someone out based on disability, like if you redefined the core duties of someone who uses a wheelchair to include sprinting up stairs, that would be a problem (IANAL)). OP can remove money decisions from their direct report’s duties if he is bad at them but good at everything else just like they can remove project planning duties if he is bad at it but good at writing reports.

    2. Anonym*

      It would largely depend on the specifics of OP’s organization. In some cases, duties can be flexed to someone in a different role; in other cases that flexibility just isn’t there, and a person not able to effectively perform a 15% chunk of their job (especially if it eats up time needed for other parts of the job they’re otherwise effective at) might need to be replaced with someone who can do the whole thing.

      My team rejiggers duties once or twice a year as we have a lot of overlapping skillsets and changing projects, but not all teams/orgs can do it.

  34. Jaybeetee*

    When a person suffers from anxiety, actually discussing/dissecting/reassuring/spending time on Whatever It Is can, counterintuitively, make things *worse*. It’s come up a few times here in the past – not necessarily the other “OMG we’re spending money instead of walking 5 miles with heavy equipment!” letters, but more the “this employee is struggling emotionally and I, their manager, am spending lots of time trying to calm them down.”

    You are not a therapist, and luckily, refusing to engage the spiral is something you can do as not-a-therapist, that meets your own needs to not spend piles of time helping him through his spiral… and is actually, likely, more helpful to him than anything else you can do.

    It sounds like when he’s calm, he knows what’s up, but loses the plot when the spiral starts. So the next time this all starts, and you just use one of Alison’s “This is what we’re spending, and that’s final” lines, he’ll a) likely calm down faster (once he internalizes that the decision is out of his hands, that might also stop the spiral in its tracks), and b) once he’s calm again, he’ll understand why you did it.

    1. MayLou*

      I deal with low-level work anxiety and the most useful thing I can do to calm down is remind myself that the issue is above my pay grade. It’s a bad thing for my career overall, because it’ll be the limiting factor on my ability to progress in my career, but it’s useful in the moment.

  35. CAA*

    I used to work with an entire department of people like this guy. Their job was to perform repairs on electronic systems located at customer sites, so they each had kits full of tools and parts that they carried around. Some parts were green tagged, meaning they didn’t have to be accounted for, and some were red tagged and had to be signed for and tracked. I cannot count the amount of time that was spent explaining to these guys (who were costing the company about $150/hr in today’s dollars) that it did not make sense for the company to pay them to account for every 25-cent green-tagged resistor and we really only cared if they lost a $500 red-tagged air handler. There were many of them who simply could not grasp this and they continued to spend half a day every couple of weeks reconciling counts for parts nobody cared about!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I feel for these guys. Some places really do make their techs account for every screw they use or ziptie they bust out, no joke. It’s awful and as you know, not efficient at all. It’s so bad that a lot of awful, poorly managed and bottom of the bucket companies would try to charge a tech if they didn’t reconcile the counts for the zip-ties or whatever else. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          At 4 cents each, if I steal 25 a day, that’s like an extra $365 every year!!!!

    2. Nacho*

      Is it possible they understood just fine, but also understood that they were being paid a bunch of money just to sort tiny resistors?

  36. Bee's Knees*

    I had to adjust from the newspaper, where I had to justify printer ink (just let that sink in) to my new job, where when I got a corporate card, asked the accountant how much I could spend on office supplies, etc. Her response? “I’m not going to worry about anything under $5000.” Alright then. It was thrilling, but did take some adjusting to.

  37. staceyizme*

    I wonder if you can just tell him “I need the options without the opinions.” Make sure you frame how you want those options sourced (one bargain, two midrange, one top of the line?) based on quality and features, then ranked for cost. In your shoes, I’d get data from him via email and avoid his comments. I’d also make it clear/ document these instances since they impact his work and consider telling him that a BFOQ for his role is data about pricing, with no drama. Let him decide to take action or not, but it sounds like a difficult situation and one that you cannot really overlook.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      oooh, I like that as an early response. But it reads like he’s resisting the decisions, which is what the OP needs to manage now.

  38. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    It’s not just people with anxiety who do this. You can get yourself into a reflexive mindset, thanks to education or previous experience, that the best way to do something efficiently is “more X and less Y”, even when conditions change.

    I had a tech supervisor who insisted on optimizing database queries. Even though developers cost $150/hour (and each query took a half a day to optimize and test), while a much bigger and faster server in Amazon’s cloud cost only $80/month extra. Sometimes the correct answer is “throw hardware at it and walk away”, but he was conditioned by his CS education of seeking ‘elegant’ solutions.

  39. ?*

    I’m curious about the ADA being play if someone, as in this case, talks about having anxiety but has not sought an actual diagnosis and treatment. Wouldn’t it need to be confirmed first before it becomes an issue of accommodation? I don’t think your employee should be using that as leverage to continue doing what you have explicitly told him not to do.

    1. CatCat*

      Yes, the employer can ask for documentation as part of the interactive process with the employee to determine if there is something to be accommodated and whether it can be reasonably accommodated.

      1. fposte*

        Though it wouldn’t always *need* to be confirmed; there are plenty of situations where it’s fine for an employer to say “Sure, we can let you do that” without checking with a doctor.

    2. Arctic*

      If an employee seeks an accommodation an employer can ask for documentation about the disability and even send the employee to a doctor of their choosing for examination if the documentation is not satisfactory.

      At the same time, an employer can’t discriminate against someone for a perceived disability, even if they don’t have one. So, a similar employer as in the letter but one actually in the US couldn’t fire or demote the employee just because they couldn’t handle what they perceived to be his anxiety issues. (NOTE: This is absolutely NOT what is happening here. The OP has very valid reasons why this is becoming unreasonable.)
      So, it is in the employer’s best interest to try to reach some middle ground reasonable accommodation, if possible.

    3. Cranky Neighbot*

      Mm, an undiagnosed disability is still a disability. People can be disabled by physical illnesses that take some time to be identified by doctors, for example. I’ve experienced this with both physical and mental health problems, and grew up receiving some small accommodations for a then-unlabeled physical problem.

      I agree that he shouldn’t be doing what his manager’s told him to quit doing. I also don’t get great vibes from someone who discusses anxiety but won’t seek treatment (not “can’t,” of course, as resources aren’t available everywhere to everyone, but “won’t”).

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sure you can start demanding documentation but then it gets even uglier and stickier in the end. It’s better to just take someone for face value, if they say or exhibit signs of anxiety in this case, you just go with it. Otherwise you’re entangling yourself so deep and it’ll look worse on you if you make it difficult to obtain the “reasonable accommodations” required by ADA protection.

  40. ImJustHereForThePoetry*

    Question: what is a companies responsibility towards ADA and accommodations for a person who isn’t being treated in a medically appropriate manner?

    1. fposte*

      Not sure whether you mean their medical treatment isn’t appropriate or their workplace treatment isn’t appropriate. However, the ADA doesn’t require an employer to do whatever the employee wants or whatever the employee’s doctor wants. Sometimes the only reasonable accommodation an employer can give still won’t be enough for the employee to do the job. An employee’s accommodation shouldn’t be predicated on their medical treatment, though; you don’t refuse elevator privileges to your employee with lung cancer just because she’s treating it with essential oils.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        This goes double for mental illness, which is *extremely* hard to treat effectively, and there’s *huge* questions about what is a ‘medically appropriate manner’. There’s a large range of possible treatments / opinions on them and it is up to the patient and their doctor to assess ‘medically appropriate.’ Work has to stay out of that question.

    2. peachie*

      Not to derail/speculate, but from first and secondhand experience, getting “appropriate treatment” for mental health issues is difficult in general (had excellent insurance and had to call sixty — SIXTY! — psychiatrists to get an appointment four months out), and anxiety can compound that to a debilitating extent.

      It’s best to assume that people are taking care of themselves as well as they can; no one wants to be suffering.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        And this is how I spent so many months with severe depression with no treatment or any kind of help, several hundred miles away from any family or friends. No doctor in the area would see me without a psych visit. No psych would see me without a doctor referral. And it was so, so hard to be that person trying to claw out of a rapidly eroding hole and just have (what feels like) more dirt thrown on top of you, because it feels like you aren’t worth the treatment with how much work it takes to *get* to the treatment.

        God bless the receptionist who after I broke over the phone pushed me through to a doctor who could just barely fit me in. They were quite literally the only office left in the area.

        1. peachie*

          Day late, but I’m sorry you had to go through this. It’s hilarious (read: f’ing awful) how mental health care is, in my experience, the most difficult kind of healthcare to access logistically — and that’s not even taking into consideration that having the energy to go through the hoops of finding ANY kind of doctor gets much, much harder when you’re dealing with serious mental health issues.

    3. CupcakeCounter*

      I’m reading the question as “employee states they have anxiety but does not have an actual diagnosis and is not undergoing any type of treatment”.
      I would think the company would be off the hook legally if the employee requests accommodations based on a self-identified condition but refuses to get an official diagnosis (or is not in the process of getting diagnosed) or be treated for a diagnosed condition. I’m no expert but I would think each side needs to make a good faith effort to minimize the impact to both the employee and the company.

      1. fposte*

        The employee isn’t actually under an obligation to minimize the impact of their disability, though; that’ll lead you down a road where disability incurs obligation that makes being disabled more unfair than it already is. If the disability as it currently presents isn’t compatible with the demands of the job, you go through the interactive process to see if you can identify reasonable accommodations.

        The law allows employers to request documentation if the disability isn’t known or obvious, but 1) it seems like it’s known in this case and 2) documentation can just be a note from a PCP, so it doesn’t have to correlate with treatment. There are situations where documentation might be more significant–“I’m allergic to polymers and metal and can only work on a fine oak desk” could reasonably elicit a request for medical documentation, for hypothetical example. But I don’t see the point of requiring documentation in this case–nobody’s doubting the reality of this guy’s anxiety.

  41. Kudzuuu*

    OP, can you give him a very clear time budget and a solid delivery time for each task and really, really hold him to those?
    “I need you to get three proposals for the purchase of twelve office chairs. They have to have backs and arm rests, be on rollers, and have 60-day warranties, and they must include delivery to our office included in the quote. They have to match and have to be adult-sized. They also must be new and not do-it-yourself like IKEA. You have two hours to complete this and have to include how much time you took in the final proposal. If the quote requires us to deliver the chairs ourselves, or doesn’t meet the requirements I listed here, or takes more than two hours, or isn’t to my desk by 3 PM Wednesday, it’s too expensive for us to use. Your goal is to meet the time requirement, the functional requirement, and the delivery requirement. I will decide how much money we will spend.”

    You shouldn’t have to be exceedingly specific in what you’re asking for, but if you are, you can point to your requirements as not having been met. If he isn’t giving you what you’re asking for, when he gives you something you *aren’t* asking for, it doesn’t help anyone. If he keeps it up, it could in fact be called insubordination.

    1. MonteCristo85*

      Personally, that seems like a bit much to me. I know I’m a very quick decision maker, but I could have found and ordered those chairs in the amount of time it would take to explain all those guidelines.

      I can only speak to my own experience with anxiety, but for me, mollycoddling it makes it worse, not better. I think a straight forward “This is what we talked about. Please go back to your desk and we can continue this discussion when you are able to proceed as we discussed.” would be better. You can natter yourself into an absolute tizzy if someone will let you feed off them.

    2. Lynn Marie*

      Great, but if you have a $$ target in mind before he does the research, even if it’s not written in stone, share that with him before he does the research. Then he can get a sense of how realistic his options are.

    3. LJay*

      If I have to micro-manage someone this much in order to get a simple quote they’re probably not the right person for the job, though.

      Compare all that to, “I need a quote for 12 standard office chairs delivered to the office by 8/1/19).” Multiply that out by every request that person is handling over the course of their employment.

  42. Michael Valentine*

    You’re in a tough spot, OP. We have budget awareness problems sometimes at our non-profit, but it’s usually the opposite case–spending willy nilly on extravagent things. We have one guy who’s done it over and over again. That is so tough to watch when others on our team are told to tighten the purse strings and are scolded over taking an uber rather than a group shuttle home from the airport (taking 2 hours more but saving a whole $20!).

  43. Samantha*

    I didn’t see this discussed higher in the comments … OP, are you giving him any kind of budget info? “We expect to spend approximately $x on this, so get me two or three suggestions around that” or “I have no idea how much this will cost – get me a couple different options in a couple different price ranges, with reviews so we can compare.”

    1. Lynn Marie*

      Yes, I’ve suggested this a few times above and your language is great. It seems obvious, but so many execs will assign a task like this and keep their budget parameters a secret from the person researching the purchase. I don’t think the OP mentions this and that’s why I bring it up.

      1. OP*

        I’ll do that when I HAVE the options – in at least once case, it was ‘we need this super specialized software to fulfil these specific parameters – please get me demos with all companies that do this, regardless of cost’. But otherwise, I’ll try to give a general budget.

        That said, more than half of the protests and issues aren’t for things he’s directly involved in purchasing – if he sees an approved invoice, the same reaction occurs. And I’m not really interested in justifying costs for purchases that I’ve made and approved and am asking him to install – that’s just beyond the pale.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          He’s doing this for things he’s not actually purchasing? (Why does he get to see those invoices?)

          That sounds exhausting. I think at that point you’ll need to opt for the option of halting the discussion and reminding him that this discussion is exactly what you have asked him to stop doing.

        2. K*

          And I’m not really interested in justifying costs for purchases that I’ve made and approved and am asking him to install – that’s just beyond the pale.

          So don’t. Stop all justifications. If he complains about price, say nothing or “okay”. Shut down the feedback cycle.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          oh dear. Yeah, he has to stop wasting your and his time with push back on these. Def cut him out of the invoice loop, and use the ‘This is the behavior I meant when I said you had to stop it’ scripts.

          Hard as it is for me to say this: if he can’t stop the behavior, this piece of it rises to job-ending. It’s one thing to argue / discuss procurement options with you in the decision phase, you can probably just shuffle that piece of workload, but after it’s purchased? No, he has to let those pass, without comment. He can not waste company time on this.

  44. Name of Requirement*

    It sounds like you can just shut these conversations down and stop explaining (I believe I’ve read that can even be helpful for some people with anxiety) but how is this shaking out with venders? Is he representing your company accurately?

    If it’s researching, maybe ask him for 3 choices, cheapest vs midrange vs high cost.

  45. Arctic*

    OP this won’t be a very helpful comment but I’d just say you’ve handled this really well so far. You’ve approached it reasonably and tried to appeal to his rationality.

  46. KR*

    I understand the issues this guy is having. I spend my orgs money like I spend my own – carefully – but it took a bit to realize our budgets are millions and millions of dollars for individual locations and I absolutely cannot balk at something just because it’s a lot of money if it’s what we need.

    I come from a government background where we had no budget to speak of and since funds were taxpayer provided we were expected to not seem like we were spending a lot even if we were for good reason. It took a lot to transition from government to for-profit.

    OP, I think what might help is to show him your budgets! A manager once asked me to do a project and I did not do it to his expectations because I was scared to spend a lot of money – turns out we had a huge budget surplus that year and I didn’t understand that we were trying to spend it down and take advantage of it. If you show your employee that all of these costs are budgeted for and expected and explain to him the whole use-it-or-lose it thing, he might get it. Also, when you’re asking him to look into a business solution tell him the budget! If he knows you’re execting it to cost 10k he won’t be looking at $100 solutions and trying in vain to make it work.
    Maybe from there you can say, you need to be able to manage these anxiety reactions on your own whether it’s mute the email, don’t look at the invoice, take a walk, get a stress ball at your desk, ect. I’m going to tell you to shut this down if I see you getting worked up about how much something costs but don’t take it personally, please just take it as a cue to go cool off.

    1. Observer*

      OP, I think what might help is to show him your budgets!

      Nope. For one thing, in general (and as others have already noted), when you get to the level of anxiety and irrationality that the employee is exhibiting, rational explanations don’t really work. And in fact, they often FEED the anxiety. In this particular case, the OP has already given the employee the kind of data they need. He;s been told clearly that the money is there and the OP has also clearly explained stuff like the staff cost of the “cheaper” option. So, it’s not a matter of not having the information he needs.

      I do agree that giving him a budget when you have an idea, is a good idea.

        1. Observer*

          The difference is that you are being careful in a normal way, and you were not dealing with irrational anxiety. So what YOU needed was information and a bit of time to get used to the new way of doing things. This guy already HAS the information he needs. The problem is his un-managed anxiety, which doesn’t really respond well to logic, unfortunately.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Don’t show him the entire budget, it’ll look like a bunch of crazy scary numbers plopped down in front of him.

      But do give him a budget for each project he’s researching to give him that window of knowledge. That’s what we do. The Ownership says “So we need new office furniture, see what you can do with $100,000.”

      Too much information can be even more daunting, especially to a mind that’s not geared towards numbers.

      1. KR*

        Ah see it really helped me which I why I suggested it. I was thinking $1000 was a lot and getting stuck in the weeds while getting quotes, and then my manager showed me the budgets and explained them and it really helped me realize in the scope of how large our budgets are something that costs $1000 is small change and more money is spent in other areas I wasn’t even aware of.

  47. Anonymousse*

    I really wish I have OP as a manager at my non-profit. The senior management here is notoriously penny pinching. Recently, we had to mail out a class action settlement package which consisted of 10 pages double sided. After I put them in large document envelopes, I had my supervisor urge me to try to stuff them into a letter sized envelope to save ~15 cents in stamp for the 70 packets we were mailing out, nevermind that redoing so would not be worth mine or the org’s time (FYI I am a junior attorney). Our ED also once told another staff that she should think again before mailing out our postcards for an event because mailing it to 2000 people is a lot of money…

    I’m very frugal with my own money but I cannot imagine being this way at work when literally time out weighs whatever pennypinching schemes a person would have.

  48. Aurion*

    OP, you’ve explained the theory behind sticker price vs time cost. Now, I think it’s time to give him guidelines–both specific to the current purchase and in general.

    “We want three office chairs, with back padding and arm rests, gas adjustments, and wheels, and either blue, black, or grey. I need to have them delivered in a week or less, have one year warranty, and at least a 60 day return window. Delivery charges must be included, and they must come preassembled. Your budget is $X. Have the options on my desk by end of day today.” If you tell him you need a padded back rest, he can’t choose the super cheap option of folding lawn chairs.

    And more broadly, “as a general rule, I expect purchased hardware to all be delivered within a week and be usable for at least three years. For meals, I want enough food for every single person to have a second plate. For sending out documents, they should arrive at destination within two business days and must have the sign for delivery option.” This trains him to consider that theory you talked–what goes into the sticker price–and informs his decisions when he makes his choices.

    I work in procurement, and being given requirements makes my job easier. The talk about sticker price vs time cost is great background theory about what goes into sticker price and what is an effective use of time, but giving general guidelines (delivery windows, warranties, etc) puts that into context, and in addition, specifics on a purchase lets the buyer know what you want to spend on for this given purchase. You need it by tomorrow? Okay, I’m airing it in from someone who has stock (and thus I wouldn’t choose waiting for the backorder and sending it via truck).

    An experienced buyer who is not afraid of spending money will either ask for your specifics if they’re not given, or give a range of options with assorted costs if they’re not sure what you want. Since your buyer isn’t experienced and always goes for “cheap” instead of “cost effective”, tell them what you want.

    1. Aurion*

      Of course, this doesn’t touch upon his anxiety spiral part. But if you frankly tell him ahead of time that you want to pay for air freight because you need it fast, it may circumvent the panic about “omg but air is so expensive!” Yes, it does cost more, but you specifically want to spend that money right now.

    2. LJay*


      I feel like the top bit might be a bit much on the information to give for a specific purchase. If I say I want office chairs, I inherently don’t want a cheap folding chair because that’s not an office chair. And someone purchasing for my office should understand that we need chairs that aren’t, for example, fluorescent orange, and use their judgement appropriately. (But yeah, if they specifically need to be tan because they’re going into conference room A which has a white and tan color scheme then specify that. Or if lumbar support is in the budget specify that.)

      But I definitely agree on the rest of the stuff. We always have deliver by dates, and generic rules like, “items with shelf life must have 60% or more shelf life remaining)”, and other specifics that are explained at the beginning of their employment.

  49. CustServGirl*

    I don’t want to derail the post, but this whole thing makes me want to hear all the craziest money-saving stories we have from different work environments! I once had a manager (non-profit, school setting) who would obsess over invoice differences of pennies, and would never even consider an employee appreciation gesture (like lunch, a holiday party, etc.) unless she could squeeze it into a 30 minute or 1 hour meeting.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Post this request in the open work thread on Fri! See if anyone can top Guacamole Bob …

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*


      I have had to deal with some AP people who [have to, idk idk idk if it’s really their company policy or theirs] reject invoices that are a penny off, even if it’s in their favor.

      I’m fine when they just short pay it a few cents, whatever whatever. But they will HOLD AN ENTIRE PAYMENT for this nonsense. Which will in turn make other orders late because you don’t pay on time, you don’t get credit terms, go figure. It’s an mini-pissing match in the end tbh.

      I’m a sucker for the details and pennies but only in the terms of I want to know where it’s missing and fix the entry correctly, instead of that horrifying thing where people just write off things without knowing what they’re writing off, yikes.

      1. That Would be a Good Band Name*

        It’s either their accounting software that doesn’t let them adjust for the difference or they just aren’t allowed to enter anything unless it matches the PO exactly. Our AP can adjust up to 5% (way too much IMO) but over that and they can’t enter the invoice at all (meaning they can’t process any payment) until someone else fixes the PO to match or overrides the variance amount allowed. Frequently, it will sit until purchasing wants to buy something else from that vendor and is told no by the vendor because we’re past due. The invoice wouldn’t have been late if they’d taken 5 minutes to fix their PO when they were asked, but suddenly they are completely confused why AP didn’t pay it (even though they know why and in some cases have been asked repeatedly for weeks to do something to allow the invoice to be processed for payment).

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah I figured it was handcuffed employees in the end and/or with awful software that in turn screws your reputation with vendors. I have yanked payment terms for entire accounts for this and required a credit card for orders going forward.

          This is my main reasoning for loathing this accounting structure. I’m not sure why 5% is too much of an adjustment allowance for you but it’s less than the time sink in creating such rigid purchasing requirements.

          At least the mega giants will just pay straight from a PO. So then it puts it on us, the vendors to make sure things match before we accept it. Then I get to remind our order processing to watch out for that kind of thing and we’re in charge of it in the end.

  50. That Would be a Good Band Name*

    OP – This is a stretch, but I ran into it recently so I’m going to suggest it. Have you tried explaining what a budget is to him? That sounds so basic, but I’ve discovered that one of our lower level *finance dept* employees doesn’t really have a great grasp on budgets and line items. She hears we need to cut back on X and suddenly she is in my office with every expenditure she hears about questioning why we are spending money on Y and Z if we can’t “afford” X. She truly thinks that it’s a cash flow issue and not a keeping expenses to what we said we would issue. Lots of people hear budget and think “cut costs”. It might help to tell him to think of the budget as a guide to help him know what to spend. If there’s a 10k budget, he needs to understand that the goal isn’t to get as far under 10k as he can. It’s actually to get as close as he can without going over because that’s the level of quality that the company wants to pay for.

  51. Lobsterman*

    This sounds like OCD. OCD cannot be reasoned with; if it could, it would be something else.

    If it’s possible to fire the employee, I’d do so. Untreated OCD doesn’t get better, and he needs the feedback that his behavior is destructive.

    If it’s not, then a plan to address and avoid triggers needs to be explicitly discussed and implemented.

    My2c, ymmv

  52. gsa*

    If that person worked for me, I would focus more on the fact that they’re probably spending double the 15% they should be on dollars/budget.

  53. Coverage Associate*

    I have anxiety about entering my time, which is a big deal as an attorney. It’s not entirely rational, but I can think of two factors that made it a trigger. First, as a very junior attorney, time entries are basically the only work product seen by partners and clients. Second, when your time entries are good, they never get mentioned, whereas with a good brief or something hopefully you get a pat on the back. But when time entries are bad, it’s a big sit down with high ups. And “bad” isn’t always the billing attorney’s fault.

    What helped me was getting a long list of sample entries I could copy, so I didn’t have to think as much about phrasing my entries.

    So 2 suggestions: Is it possible to praise the employee for finding time and cost effective resources? And can you narrow the range of options the employee needs to consider ? Similar to people suggesting giving a budget in advance, but maybe instead tell the employee which suppliers to consider or limit the options to report on.

    1. SurprisedCanuk*

      Why would you praise him for finding cost savings that are a waste of time(time is money) and not good. Praising someone when there doing something wrong is just going to reinforce his bad habits. Eating out of the trash would save money, but is a terrible idea. Option 2 is basically just doing the job for him. Giving him a budget is probably already being done and he is going under budget.

      1. Coverage Associate*

        My point was nothing has been mentioned about the times when the employee gets it right. That’s what I meant by “Time and cost effective resources.” Effective both as to time and cost. Maybe rather than just telling the employee when the approach is wrong, point out when it’s right.

        1. SurprisedCanuk*

          It does not sound like the employee is getting it right that often or ever. The OP has done everything possible to explain the problem. The person just can’t get it. I’m also pretty sure the OP would tell him when he’s doing it right i.e finding better solutions. The problem is he is not finding good solutions to problems. Take my garbage example or another example buying cheap chair that breaks instead of one that lasts for 5 years.

  54. Daytripper75*

    What is up with all of these folks at work who need therapy to get through their days? Your manager is not your psychologist, people!

    1. Rectilinear Propagation*

      What is up with all of these folks at work who need therapy…

      Where else are they supposed to be?

  55. SurprisedCanuk*

    I think the OP has done everything she can do. The person has a great depression era mentality. I would suggest just going with no that too much work we are going to do it this way or assign him different tasks.

  56. Mrs. Smith*

    I think we’ve overlooked the obvious solution here, which is to put this nice fellow to work for Guacamole Bob, and they can pinch pennies forever after. (Seriously, I hope he seeks help for anxiety. It may make a profound difference in his life for the better.)

  57. The Rat-Catcher*

    As someone who works at an agency where my $30 automatic stapler gets the whole “MUST BE NICE” routine from coworkers, I sympathize with this guy. But you’ve made it clear he needs to change and so he does.

  58. Chatterby*

    I dunno, maybe make him a decision tree and the only way he’s allowed to bring up the ‘cheaper’ options he finds is if it meets all criteria?
    Is the cost difference less than $200? yes-> do not bring it up
    Does it have every single feature we need? no-> do not bring it up
    Is the physical quality/ performance of equal or greater to the already chosen object? no -> do not bring it up
    Did the calculated cost for the added inconvenience, added work, and additional training end up lower than that of the already chosen option? (show your work) no-> do not bring it up.
    Will it cause a drop in morale or good feeling? yes-> do not bring it up

    1. fposte*

      I love me a good flow chart, but I think he’ll bring it up anyway. It sounds like his anxiety is always telling him that this time is an exception no matter what he’s been told before.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        I’m not sure. I think it could be less anxiety and more skewed perspective on what is real savings. I think assigning a check-list of assumptions to check as well as re-training his thought before these proposals are brought to OP as well as a cart Blanc no enacting savings without OP approval is needed.

        That’s a lot of work and of course only if OP really wants to retain and retrain.

        1. suprisedcanuk*

          Disagree the employee knows he’s being irrational just can’t help himself.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Actually – this is something that may help with the situation the OP’s described, where the employee is bringing up the cost of already-purchased software that he’s installing, and that he happens to see the invoice for.

      If OP chooses to follow Alison’s scripts, then a decision tree is one way to show the employee what OP’s talking about. Something like:

      Was Employee asked to procure the software? -> No -> Do not ever discuss the cost.
      -> Yes -> Has OP said ‘This is the decision’ ? -> Yes -> Stop discussing the cost.
      -> No -> Do we have a decision matrix with all quality and cost implications? -> Yes -> Stop discussing cost, Employee has passed it to OP and no longer has responsibility for the decision
      -> No -> Spend x hours (set by OP, to vary with the scope of the project) developing the decision matrix including requested criteria and cost. Include total cost of ownership assuming Labor Time = Cost $y.

      Then any time Employee comes with a concern about an invoice in software he’s installing, OP can say, ‘Decision point 1A. This is not up for discussion.’ and be done.

      Something like this printed out or written down would help me catch myself before I committed the offending behavior.

  59. Phoenix Programmer*

    Not sure if OP is still reading but if you want to retain this employee in the role I recommend tasking the employee with calculating the cost of labor for their cost intiative against the “hard cost” before they bring a proposal to you.

    So for the chair example, when they bring you the numbers, drill them on the assumptions and methodology. Ok did you build in a reduced productivity assumption for this cheaper chair? Did you factor in your labor? What about increased health costs related to cheap chairs causing ergonomic issues? This should hopefully train him to see the true costs more easily without quashing his cost saving spirit. It’s good that the person processing payments is thinking – we can save money – but only if it’s realistic.

  60. Cherries on top*

    OP, you say that you’re not in the US. How does situations like this get handled in you country? You talked about some workers rights, and I’m just curious how it works in other places (hence reading this site) as the government in my country is trying to weaken workers rights. Firing? Adjusted working situation? Replacment within the company?

  61. MissDisplaced*

    Oof… I feel for that person. It’s likely they came from a previous environment where every penny was pinched and if you spent a dollar more you got your hassled big time.

    I’ve so been there.

    Then I worked somewhere where cost wasn’t a big issue and I managed a half-million dollar budget with authority to spend up to $10k which was great! But now I’m back to working at another penny pinching company where I get hassled and have to get special approval over a $20 expense and it sucks!

  62. Kc24*

    Could you find a procurement class/workshop that might be able to teach him the principles of value for money in a business context?

    Value for money (VFM): It is the achievement of a desired procurement outcome at the best possible price—not necessarily the lowest price— based on a balanced judgement of financial and non financial factors relevant to the procurement.

    Another useful principle is the quality/scope triangle: time/cost/quality – You can only pick two.

    These might be more tangible ways to help manage and overcome the anxiety by providing context around the decision making at play?

  63. Former Employee*

    I am obviously very late to this one.

    I cannot believe the number of people suggesting that the OP do this or that to accommodate this employee. Especially after the OP has responded that the employee actually questions her judgment and inserts himself into purchase related matters that don’t involve him, it seems to me that the OP needs to shut this down.

    If it’s a matter that he sees or hears about and is not involved in, as soon as he he makes a comment, the OP should simply tell the employee that it is not part of his job and he is wasting time and money by involving himself in this already settled transaction.

    If it’s a purchase that he has researched and tries to tell the OP that she should buy the cheaper/cheapest when she knows it would be more cost effective to buy the more expensive item, then she could thank him for his work and advise him that she is manager and it’s her call to make.

    I have been using “she” on the assumption that the manager is female. We know the employee is male. If I am correct and the OP is female, I hate to think that this employee’s anxiety is actually a manifestation of his belief that women aren’t good at things involving math so he is actually just dismissing her cost benefit analysis because he sees it as a justification for this woman doing what she want to do. In other words, is he really just mansplaining?

  64. Jack V*

    I’ve noticed my reaction to this sort of thing zooming in and out depending on the scale. Like, if I’m buying something costing pennies, I’ll just buy the one I want, and if it costs 50p or 1p, I won’t care even a bit which one. I’ve slowly learned that now I’m fairly financially secure, even things that cost several hundred pounds, it’s worth making sure I choose something at the appropriate range of price, but not worrying if it’s not The Absolute Lowest. But definitely, if my boss told me to spend $1m on something, when there was a $100,000 version that was equally good, but it just wasn’t worth taking a couple of hours to compare, I would feel very worried

    But it sounds like you’ve already done all the right things, you’ve made it clear what trade-offs you want to make, and he still just can’t do it. That’s a real problem he has to get over himself (hopefully with therapy, official or unofficial). And I hope you could help, but I don’t know how, there’s no easy way.

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